Coronavirus and Travel: Your Questions Answered


Have you got an upcoming trip booked but worried about how Coronavirus may impact your travels? Or thinking of booking a break somewhere but not sure where in the world it is safe to travel? Don’t panic, here’s all you need to know about Coronavirus and travel. 

How serious is the outbreak right now? 

The Coronavirus outbreak is serious, but it’s currently not in every country. It’s definitely more serious in some places than others. Currently, countries with serious outbreaks are China, Iran, South Korea and northern Italy. If you want more information about the virus or countries affected by it, visit GOV.UK.  

Should I be worried about travelling? 

It is still safe to travel to most countries, but do keep yourself informed if you do have future travel plans, as the situation may change. If you had plans to travel to South Korea, China, Iran or northern Italy, you are advised to reschedule or delay your travel plans until the outbreak is under control. For travel to other countries, exercise general precautions and good hygiene habits – so frequently wash your hands, avoid touching your face, wipe down surfaces etc. If you are still worried about travelling during this time and are considering cancelling, why not change the dates of your trip, or change the destination instead? That way you can still travel but will have better peace of mind.

What are the good places to travel to right now?

Be sure to check any destination you may be considering to travel to in the near future. Some of the places that are quite safe to travel to at the moment are Central and South America, Northern and Eastern Europe, North America and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). Among other places too. 

Cancellations, Refunds and Travel Plans

Can I still fly to [city]?

If you have a trip booked, or were considering booking a trip, don’t give up on them just yet. For most places around the world, travel is still safe. The most important thing to do is to keep up to date with the situation and check any recommendations from GOV.UK about travelling. 

At the time of writing (4 March 2020) this following advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is in effect:

  • Advise against all travel to Hubei Province
  • Advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China  (not including Hong Kong and Macau) 
  • If you are in China and able to leave, you should do so
  • Advise against all travel to the South Korean city of Daegu and all but essential travel to Cheongdo in South Korea
  • All but essential travel to the Lombardy region and in the Veneto region of Italy. 

The FCO has currently not advised against travel to any other country/territory as a result of the outbreak.

Will airlines refund travel that has been disrupted by the coronavirus?

Typically, yes, airlines will refund travel, but this will depend on the individual airline and the level of disruption that has been caused. Each airline determines the level of disruption and risk necessary to offer refunds to passengers, so it will differ from airline to airline. If your flight is cancelled you may be eligible for a refund by the airline. Travel waivers have also been issued by airlines such as Delta, America, British Airways and United. Read more about these travel waivers to get more information. Or visit the airline websites directly for details. 

If you decide to cancel your own trip because you are worried about the virus, the likelihood of you getting a refund is very small. If your trip is somewhere with no outbreaks, most airlines will not offer you a refund. Most travel insurance companies will not cover you for this either unless your insurance covers a ‘cancellation for any reason’ plan. The reason? Unless there is an outbreak, the risk of coronavirus is not considered big enough to restrict or prevent travel. So any cancellations would still be considered voluntary.  But if you are worried, you may wish to change your travel plans (this may incur a fee) to another date or destination. 

Do any airlines have policies in place already? 

Yes, some airlines are already taking precautionary measures or allowing more flexible cancellation and change policies during this time. Just a few are: 

British Airways

  • Cancelled normal flights to Beijing and Shanghai until 17 April 2020. Any passengers on these flights will be offered a refund or the possibility of rescheduling at a later date 
  • Passengers who have booked flights to Hong Kong before 31 May 2020 are being allowed to postpone their travel
  • Travel waivers are also in place for passengers flying to Northern Italy

Lufthansa Group (include Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa) 

  • Suspended all flights to mainland China until 28 March 2020
  • Will reduce services in March to Hong Kong
  • Passengers can request refunds on their My Bookings page or have the options of rebooking their flights for a later date
  • There are also plans to cancel up to 25% of short-haul and domestic flights

Virgin Atlantic

  • There will be no change fee for any new booking made in March 2020, for travel up to 30 September 2020. This will apply on all routes in their international network and on tickets booked on VA flights with codeshares on transatlantic routes, with its partners Delta, KLM and Air France

Any policies put in place by airlines will apply to tickets from these airlines purchased on StudentUniverse as well. Also, remember some airlines are offering refunds or free changes to areas that are experiencing outbreaks. But do check with your airline for their specific policy. And if you are wishing to change or cancel your flight, be aware that there will be delays from customer service teams in getting to your query. They are experiencing extremely high call volumes at this time. 

How will the travel bans affect study abroad programmes? 

The answer will vary based upon your education provider, study abroad provider and the destination you are planning to study in. If there are travel bans in the destination of your programme (China and Italy) then it looks like your study abroad experience will be cancelled. Do check with your study abroad provider or your home university and your host university. They will be able to provide you with more details on if your programme will go ahead or not. 

Staying healthy whilst travelling

Should I wear a face mask?

Unless you are ill or caring for someone who is, the advice is to not wear a mask. Most commonly, masks will not offer full protection from the virus. The masks that do are needed by patients and medical staff, which are in very high demand and in short supply. 

What are the top precautions to take if I do choose to travel?

  • Avoid travelling to areas with known outbreaks. Especially if you have underlying health conditions that could put you at higher risk of contracting the virus
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often- for at least 20 seconds
  • Always wash your hands when you get back to your accommodation, into a restaurant or public place
  • Use hand sanitizer if water and soap is not available
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (not your hands)
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash hands after
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Eat well and get a lot of sleep- you want your immune system at the top of its game, so lots of shut-eye and fresh fruit and veg will give it that boost

Are airports doing any screening for potentially affected people?

Airports around the UK have different measures in place about flights returning from destinations where an outbreak is currently taking place or is close proximity. This information is as follows: 

London Heathrow: Enhanced monitoring is in place for direct flights from Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia to the UK. There will be advice leaflets and Public Health England colleagues and doctors present in immigration halls. 

London Gatwick: They are following advice from Public Health England and are currently displaying information about the virus throughout its terminals. 

Manchester Airport: Those showing symptoms during flights from countries at risk are not going to be assessed by medics on arrival at the airport. 

Edinburgh Airport: As of yet there have been no changes to arrival or departures procedures since the coronavirus outbreak. 

What is someone on my flights has the virus?

The likelihood of this depends on a number of factors, where you are travelling to or coming from and if the person displaying symptoms actually has the virus. If you are at risk, medical officials may quarantine you until they are certain you are not at risk of having and spreading the virus.  

Would a local hospital treat me if needed? 

Generally yes, especially with such illness like coronavirus. But do check before travelling as your regular health insurance may not cover this. Be sure to purchase travel insurance that will cover emergency medical care. It may seem like a waste of money if you don’t end up needing treatment for anything, but if you find yourself in the hospital or falling sick, you will be landed with a pretty pricey medical bill. 

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