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Coronavirus: the current British Airways and Virgin Atlantic policies on refunds and changes

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This article is a summary of the current British Airways and Virgin Atlantic coronavirus policies on travel, refunds and status extension.

It is correct, as far we know, as of 8pm on Wednesday 11th.

Most major airlines now have some kind of travel waiver in place.  In most cases, they are relatively worthless.  They do not allow refunds, are not applicable to tickets booked before the waiver was announced and still leave the passenger on the hook for any difference in cash fares.  Standouts include Qatar Airways, which is allowing pre-existing bookings to be cancelled and offering a one-year voucher if you want to cancel, and S7 Airlines which is offering free cancellation on all new bookings.

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are running virtually full schedules because no slot waiver has been granted at Gatwick or Heathrow.  From the week of 22nd March, British Airways has cancelled 18% of its short haul flights – details are in this article.  A slot waiver is expected to be approved by the European Commission in the next day or so.

Remember that many countries are blocking entry to passengers who have visited certain countries, primarily China, South Korea and Italy, in the previous 14 days.  Ensure you seek guidance before travelling.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic coronavirus policies

Where does the Foreign Office advise against visiting?

Full details are here.

For China, the FCO is advising against all travel to Hubei Province and against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China.  This does not include Hong Kong or Macau.

The FCO is also advising:

  • against all travel to the cities of Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan in South Korea
  • against all but essential travel to Italy

You are ONLY legally entitled to a flight refund if you were flying to a city where the Government advises against ALL travel.  As this only covers Hubei and the three South Korean cities listed above, none of which have BA or Virgin Atlantic flights, this is not your path to a refund.

It seems unlikely that the Foreign Office will extend the list which blocks ALL travel so you should not rely on this route as a way of triggering a refund on your booked ticket.

Which countries have banned incoming passengers from the United Kingdom?

The largest countries which have heavily restricted entry for UK passport holders are Israel, India and Vietnam.

Cyprus has reversed the ban on UK arrivals announced this morning following a major backlash from the tourist industry.

India has announced that ALL tourist visas will be suspended on 13th March.  For clarity, this covers existing visas as well as ones which are currently being processed.  If you have a visa, it is no longer valid.  Visas will not be reinstated until 15th April.

Israel is insisting that everyone entering the country undergoes a two-week quarantine in a private house.  If you cannot prove on arrival that this has been arranged then you will be banned from entry.  The UK Government guidance is here.

Vietnam is removing United Kingdom citizens from the visa waiver programme on 12th March.  The e-visa process has also been suspended.  The only way to gain entry from Thursday is by applying to the Embassy in Kensington for a visa.  It appears that any application would only be granted if you had a local sponsor who agreed to quarantine you in their home for 14 days. The UK Government guidance is here.

Kuwait is closing its main airport entirely on Friday 13th.  This will, obviously, see the cancellation of British Airways flights.

British Airways coronavirus policies

British Airways coronavirus policies:

The latest British Airways news can be found on the special advisories page of ba.com here and has the latest information.  However, changes are usually published first on the BA Travel Trade pages here.

Note that we can expect SUBSTANTIAL flight cancellations, across all routes, as soon as the European Commission suspends the ‘use it or lose it’ rules on airport slots.  This suspension is currently in the process of being approved.

Travel waiver – if you book a British Airways flight or BA Holidays package between 3rd March and 31st March, you will be able to change the date without a fee to any date in the next 12 months, paying any fare difference, or request a BA voucher which is valid for 12 months from the date of your outbound flight.  Details of the ‘Book with Confidence’ guarantee are in this artice here and on ba.com hereIf you booked your flight before 3rd March and it is still operating, you have NO right to a free change of date or a refund unless your flight is cancelled.

Status extensions – no announcement has been made about status extensions for British Airways Executive Club members.  Tier points and Avios are not being awarded for flights cancelled due to coronavirus.  There is no official policy yet on extensions to BA Amex 2-4-1 vouchers.

Short-notice cancellations the pattern we have seen so far is that in general British Airways will NOT cancel flights with less than 14 days notice because this triggers EC261 compensation.  If you are flying in under 14 days you should assume that your flight will operate.

Country-by-country changes

ShanghaiAll flights cancelled until 17th April.  From 18th April to 31st May, British Airways will operate three flights per week on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.  From 1st June, seven flights per week will operate.  From 1st November, the full 10 flights per week will resume.

If you are booked to fly to Shanghai before 1st June, British Airways will rebook you on a later flight, up to 1st August, at your request.  You may also change to a Hong Kong flight although BA will not pay to get you into China.  Rebooking on selected other airlines is also available.  No refunds are allowed whilst your flight is still operating.

Beijing – All flights cancelled until 17th April.  From 19th April to 31st May, British Airways will operate four flights per week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  From 1st June, the standard daily service will resume.

If you are booked to fly to Beijing before 1st June, and you booked before 20th February, British Airways will refund your flight or rebook you on a later flight, up to 1st August, at your request.  You may also change to a Hong Kong flight although BA will not pay to get you into China.  Rebooking on selected other airlines is also available.  No refunds are allowed whilst your flight is still operating.

Hong Kong – British Airways will continue to operate just one daily flight, instead of two, until 1st June.

If you are booked to fly to Hong Kong before 1st June, and you booked before 20th February, British Airways will rebook you on a later flight, up to 1st August, at your request.  No refunds are allowed whilst your flight is still operating.

Singapore – six flights throughout March have been cancelled.  The A380 service has been withdrawn on some dates and replaced by a smaller Boeing 777.

Seoul eight flights throughout March have been cancelled

Italy –  the situation is unclear.  As 9.45am on Tuesday British Airways announced that all flights to Italy have been cancelled until, and including, 4th April.  At 11.15am this advice was withdrawn and replaced with a vague statement that “some flights are affected up to and including 4 April 2020.”  However, all BA flights to Italy are currently showing as cancelled.

Please check the special advisories page of ba.com and the BA Travel Trade pages here before taking any action as the situation may have changed from when this article was compiled.

Virgin Atlantic coronavirus policies

Virgin Atlantic coronavirus policies:

Travel waiver on cash bookings – if you book a Virgin Atlantic flight, including a VS-coded flight operated by another airline, between 4th March and 31st March for travel up to 30th September, you will be able to change the date without a fee for travel up to 30th September.  You will be on the hook for any difference in fare.

Virgin Atlantic has now introduced changes for earlier bookings.

If you booked your flight before 4th March, for travel before 30th April 2020 (including Flying Club redemption bookings), your travel can be rebooked up to 30th September 2020.  Again, you will be on the hook for any difference in fare.  Full details of the travel waiver are here on the Virgin Atlantic website.

Travel waiver on reward flights – if you book a Virgin Flying Club redemption flight between 6th March and 31st March, you will be able to change the date without a fee.  This is only possible if redemption seats are available for your new dates.  Cancellation fees are NOT waived.  If you booked your flight before 6th March, you must pay the standard cancellation and change fees.

Status extensions – no announcement has been made about status extensions for Virgin Flying Club members.  Tier points and miles are not being awarded for flights cancelled due to coronavirus.

Tel Aviv – Flights to Tel Aviv are cancelled as of 10th March

Shanghai – All flights cancelled until 20th April.  If you are booked to fly to Shanghai beween 20th – 30th April, Virgin Atlantic will rebook you on a later flight, up to 31st May, at your request.

Hong Kong The official line is that all flights are operating, but there are actually substantial cancellations in place with the service reduced to four flights per week at times.  If you are booked to fly to Hong Kong before 30th April, Virgin Atlantic will rebook you on a later flight, up to 31st May, at your request.

Different rules are in place if you booked before 27th January.  In this case:

  • full refunds are available for anyone booked to Shanghai or Hong Kong
  • rebooking is available
  • rerouting is available, subject to the payment of any fare difference

Please check the Virgin Atlantic travel news pages before taking any action as the situation may have changed from when this article was compiled.

Note that we can expect SUBSTANTIAL flight cancellations, across all routes, as soon as the European Commission suspends the ‘use it or lose it’ rules on airport slots.  This suspension is currently in the process of being approved.

 


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Comments (178)

  • Dominic says:

    If I had a holiday booked for the Easter holidays in Italy (toward the start of April), any ideas whether I could claim on insurance now? Or would I need to wait to see travel restrictions then?

    • Rob says:

      No. Your flight is not cancelled so you have no grounds.

      • Dominic says:

        What if the outbound flight is cancelled? The inbound flight is separately booked for logistical reasons.

        • Dominic says:

          Can’t edit, but the bit I am wondering about insurance is the return flight, in country transport and a few non refundable hotels (most are refundable?

          • Rob says:

            I would imagine if your flight there is cancelled then everything else would be paid. But perhaps that is too logical ….

      • Fred says:

        Yet

  • Frankie says:

    Thanks Rob for your constant updates on this. HFP is my one stop shop I go to for the most up to date and reliable information regarding airlines and the coronavirus. And I know that if BA do decide to offer full refunds for all future bookings I’ll hear it here first.

    • Dominic says:

      Yes, indeed, thanks Rob. Been incredibly useful to get the latest key travel updates here (often difficult to spot in amongst the other updates on mainstream news!).

    • LewisB says:

      +1

  • Tom says:

    BA and VS are still behind many airlines in terms of not allowing and waiving change fees for previous bookings let alone proving refund or travel vouchers if customer wants to cancel due to uncertainties. Even Air France is allowing this without penalty and almost all carriers in the US too! Rob, can you check with BA/VS if they would keep on doing this kind of customer antagonising efforts?

    • Lady London says:

      Why should airlines bear all the cost of this? Isn’t this what travellers are normally advised to purchase insurance for?

      • Redman de flont says:

        Not everyone enjoys submitting the paper work or the hassle of being on hold, before speaking to various different agents, who each in turn need to speak to their supervisor. I try to avoid claiming even if I have insurance when there’s some global catastrophe.

      • Oh! Matron! says:

        Every single time I see this (I’m aggrieved because x happened and I’m financially out of pocket), my first question is: Is it time for Gin.

        The second question is: Do you have insurance? Nope? Then stop yer whinin’.

        • Lady London says:

          Gin ? I’ll join you.

        • Redman de flont says:

          Nonsense. I always have annual travel insurance. I don’t know why anyone would travel without it. Come again?

          • John o boats says:

            Sense here is clearly at a premium. I’ll skip the gin, tar.

          • manu says:

            real wine-r lol.
            dunno why people make daft assumptions based on nothing.

  • Stephen says:

    May I add my thanks for all your efforts Rob. I thought from this HFP article about avios flights
    https://headforpoints.com/2019/01/02/what-are-the-avios-cancellation-fees/
    that you could cancel up to 24 hours before the outbound flight with the avios and taxes etc. being returned and the ‘penalty’ cost being restricted to £35 per person. Does this not apply in this instance?

  • Tony says:

    I was reading the wording of the HSBC Premier account travel insurance policy and it seems to be incredibly generous compared to almost all policies. Interestingly it specifically says you are covered if you choose not to travel or continue your trip because:

    (c) your accommodation is directly affected by a food poisoning outbreak, or the area in which you are staying is affected by pandemic or epidemic influenza;

    It also says you are covered in case FCO advises against all travel OR all but essential travel.

    I am not sure how they are interpreting the pandemic clause in practice since at the moment I think you could probably claim for any travel anywhere…

    • marcw says:

      It hasn’t been declared officially a pandemic. Epidemic only in some countries.

    • Lady London says:

      Good one. Makes the Axa-backed insurance policy on the £600p.a. Amex Platinum card look very weak.

    • JP_MCO says:

      We use the HSBC Premier travel insurance and when checking the details noticed that the cancellation only covers you up to £7500. Is this per person or the policy? I would imagine that a lot of HSBC Premier customer purchase holidays which cost a lot more than £7500. This is our issue for this summer – we’re due to go to the Maldives for 3 weeks. The cost of the holiday is much higher than £7500 so we’re wondering whether the Premier travel insurance is adequate or not.

    • Joseph Heenan says:

      unless I’m missing something, “or the area in which you are staying is affected by pandemic or epidemic influenza;” is:

      “pandemic or epidemic” influenza

      and not:

      “a pandemic” or “epidemic influenza”.

      (And COVID-19 is not influenza!)

      Perhaps HSBC will be generous, but https://www.hsbc.co.uk/help/coronavirus/ says:

      We’re monitoring the situation closely. At the moment, you’ll only be covered if:

      – you’re travelling within the next 31 days

      – you’re travelling to a destination where the FCO has advised against all travel/all but essential travel
      the advice wasn’t already in place when you booked your trip

      – If you’re staying within 20 miles of an area where the FCO has advised against all travel/all but essential travel and this advice wasn’t already in place when your policy started or when you booked your trip (whichever is later), we’ll consider cover as a gesture of goodwill so please contact us on 0800 299 399.

  • Waddle says:

    From Sky News:

    “European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the EU will temporarily drop rules which say airlines must operate 80% of scheduled services to keep landing slots at airports”

  • Leigh says:

    We have planned a June family vacation after saving for 15 years..(bad timing ;)) via London, New York and Orlando and back to South Africa..so unless flights cancelled our travel insurance won’t pay then by the looks of it as we can’t cancel based on fears 🙁

    • Joseph Heenan says:

      All we can say with certainty is that the situation in June will be very different to today’s situation. I’d not stress about something that far away, particularly given it’s basically out of your control!

  • Barry says:

    Im currently in Greece flying back to Cyprus on Friday and then back to the UK Sunday to fly to America on Monday. Does this mean ill be stuck in Cyprus for 14 days? I have travel insurance will I be able to claim?

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