Consumer's Telegram March 2020Insert of n. 22 - Editorial office: Centro Europeo Consumatori (European Consumer Centre Italy - Bolzano office)
SPECIAL TOPIC: CORONA VIRUS
The coronavirus emergency has led to the adoption of several measures at national and international level that restrict tourism and travel. This inevitably affects those who have planned holidays and stays away from home these days. The European Consumer Centre explains which rights passengers have under these circumstances. However, one thing in advance: each situation must be assessed on its own merits in the light of the specific circumstances of the single case, as the measures taken at national and international level are not uniform and may change steadily.
What rights do travellers have?
A first distinction concerns, on the one hand, those travellers who are forced to give up travel by express order of the competent authorities and, on the other hand, travellers who have decided on their own to cancel the booked journey as a precautionary measure.
In the first case, it should be possible to obtain reimbursement of the amount paid in the case of cancellation of flights or other means of transport. Where the consumer has purchased a package tour which provides for a stay in areas subject to restrictions for safety reasons, it is possible to withdraw from the package before departure without paying a cancellation fee. Package travel provisons foresee for the traveller the right to terminate the contract in the event of unavoidable and exceptional circumstances, such as epidemics, if such events significanty affect the holiday or prevent the consumer from (safely) reaching the destination.
On the other hand, if the consumer decides not to travel despite the absence of explicit prohibitions, the refund of the price paid cannot be guaranteed. If the ticket was issued with a flexible or refundable fare, the rebooking or refund of the ticket price according to booking conditions is possible. In all other cases the passenger has the right to a refund of taxes and fees as long as the cancellation is made before check-in.
In the event of voluntary cancellation of a hotel booking, that provides for a stay in an area where no emergency has been declared and no restrictions have been decided, the booking conditions will specify how this cancellation is to be handled. As a rule, a hotel booking cannot be cancelled free of charge, unless otherwise agreed. Nevertheless, carriers, hotels and tour operator are of course free to offer a gesture of goodwill, regardless of the legal conditions. For example, anyone who has purchased a train ticket with Trenitalia or Italo can cancel it and receive a refund in the form of a voucher (or in regional transport also as cash payment).
Moreover, at this stage it is not foreseeable whether and which countries will impose which entry restricitons on Italian citizens in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus epidemic. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website provides the latest travel information and entry bans: http://www.viaggiaresicuri.it/. In any case, those who have booked a trip or want to book a trip should observe the situation closely, as the situation can change every hour. Please, always obtain information from official sources, e. g. directly from the national or local authorities or serious media reports.
Further information can be found on the ECC website..