Coronavirus holidays: ABTA issues travel warning & alerts of 'lengthy delays' for refunds

Holidays have been cancelled in droves as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the globe. There are currently 732,153 total cases of the deadly virus, with 19,788 in the UK. The crisis has battered the travel industry and now ABTA has warned that a lack of Government action on travel regulation puts UK travel businesses on the brink.

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The travel association has cautioned that “catastrophic damage” could be caused to the UK travel industry.

What’s more, Britons could face lengthy delays in getting refunded for their cancelled holidays if travel firms are forced into bankruptcy.

France, Belgium, Denmark, Italy have all introduced changes to EU rules but UK government “drags its feet,” ABTA said in a statement today.

The association added that: “Following a lack of action by Government officials, ABTA has again written to Government Ministers, including the office of the Prime Minister, to urge immediate action to prevent catastrophic damage to the UK travel industry and widespread consumer detriment.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus flights: easyJet and BA remove online refund option

Coronavirus holidays: “Catastrophic damage” could be caused to the UK travel industry (Image: Getty Images)Coronavirus: Regulations currently stipulate that the window for refund payments is 14 days (Image: Getty Images)

Package Travel Regulations currently stipulate that the window for refund payments is 14 days.

However, ABTA has said that this should be extended to a four-month period.

ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said: “The global pandemic has put enormous financial strain on tour operators and travel agents, with businesses seeing a collapse in sales while facing immediate repatriation costs and refund demands for cancelled holidays on a scale that is unmanageable in the short term.

“These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines and without this money, they simply do not have the cash to provide refunds to customers within 14 days.

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“Existing regulations are entirely unsuited to deal with this situation.”

ABTA is asking the government to confirm the ongoing protection of refund credits, in a second temporary amendment to Package Travel Regulations.

They have also said there should be an emergency government consumer hardship fund to help fulfil refund payments when suppliers (e.g. hotels or airlines) cannot or will not refund tour operators.

Tanzer said: “We want to avoid the scenario of normally successful travel businesses employing tens of thousands of people facing bankruptcy, resulting in holidaymakers having to wait many months for refunds through Government financial protection schemes.

“We are proposing some simple, temporary changes to regulations to buy more time for companies to keep trading, while ensuring customer rights are protected.

“Many European countries, including France, Belgium, Denmark and Italy, have already announced similar regulatory changes to preserve their travel industries and protect customers.”

Coronavirus holidays: “These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines” (Image: Getty Images)

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Both British Airways and easyJet have removed the option online to apply for a refund.

Travel expert Simon Calder issued a warning on Twitter to airline passengers over the weekend.

Calder cautioned that easyJet and BA customers are no longer able to apply for a refund online. Instead, they have to call the airlines’ contact centre.

The travel guru tweeted: “If BA or easyJet cancel your flight you are due a full refund within a week“But both airlines have removed the website refund option, to try to get passengers to accept a voucher instead.

“To get actual money back you must phone the airline within a year from the date of the flight.”

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An easyJet spokeswoman confirmed this, stating: “Customers on cancelled flights can transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a voucher for the value of their booking online or claim a refund through our contact centre.

“We are experiencing higher than average wait times so we would thank customers for their patience and assure them that these entitlements will be available long after their cancelled flight has flown.

“For customers whose flights are not cancelled but would like to move to a later date they can amend their flight online with no change fee and we have brought forward our winter schedule on-sale so customers have more choice to move their flights, up to 28 February 2021.”

Coronavirus holidays: BA and easyJet have removed the option online to apply for a refund (Image: Getty Images)

An easyJet spokeswoman confirmed this, stating: “Customers on cancelled flights can transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a voucher for the value of their booking online or claim a refund through our contact centre.

“We are experiencing higher than average wait times so we would thank customers for their patience and assure them that these entitlements will be available long after their cancelled flight has flown.

“For customers whose flights are not cancelled but would like to move to a later date they can amend their flight online with no change fee and we have brought forward our winter schedule on-sale so customers have more choice to move their flights, up to 28 February 2021.”