A heap of new travel restrictions has thrown Europe’s long-anticipated August break into disarray, dealing a setback to airlines and leaving some passengers on the hook for the cost of last-minute changes.
The U.K., for example, has reimposed quarantine measures on Spain, France, Malta and the Netherlands, in response to rising infection rates in those countries.
Ryanair Holdings Plc, the biggest discount carrier, has cut back on schedules, saying the uncertainty has discouraged people from booking foreign trips. Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s Eurowings unit said Tuesday it’ll reduce capacity to Spain, in response to a German travel warning.
“Airlines are stuck in an awkward place where there’s no visibility beyond two weeks, and they’re having to ramp down and ramp up and then ramp down again, at short notice,” said Mark Manduca, an analyst with Citigroup. “Every airline is adapting as best they think they can.”
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For those who already have tickets, changing plans has become a minefield of terms and conditions that vary by carrier.
While customers are entitled to a refund when an airline cancels a flight, they typically have to work hard to get it, such as calling a busy customer-service desk. Most carriers are also offering vouchers or rescheduling for free, and making it easier to select these options.
When a flight is still operating but now subject to quarantine, the guidelines are murky. Airlines aren’t obliged to pay cash refunds and generally are refusing to do so on upcoming trips, say, from the the U.K. to France.
It’s left some travelers with the choice of staying home and eating the ticket price, paying expensive fees to change dates and destinations, or chancing the journey and a potential quarantine on return.
Airlines are ignoring regulators’ warnings and refusing to offer refunds to affected countries, said Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, an independent U.K. consumer-advice service. He called for reforms to strengthen the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority.
“Passengers will not easily forget how they have been treated through this period,” Boland said. “The impact on trust in the travel industry has been devastating.”
— With assistance by Tara Patel
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