Figures are showing a substantial rise in travel throughout 2023 compared to previous years as it becomes evident that we are now coming out the other side of COVID. But, with increased travel comes increased drama – and wow, have we seen a lot of that this year.
Now, for the seasoned traveller, the odd cancellation, strike or delay is all part and parcel of jetting off to another country but for the ones trying to get away for their first holiday in a few years, the dream very quickly turns into a nightmare. With all the best planning in the world, 2023 has thrown some huge curve balls at us, so we want to do a little roundup of everything that went wrong, and how we can prepare ourselves against this in 2024.
First up, we have strike action. Whether that’s air traffic control, baggage handlers, security, or the airline staff themselves, strikes seemed to be a monthly, if not weekly, occurrence in 2023 causing havoc at major airports across the country. The constant strikes led to hundreds of flights being delayed and cancelled, with many travellers not knowing who to turn to and what to do to get their money back.
So, lets break this down. If you’re flight is delayed on the way to your holiday (departure) it is unlikely you will be entitled to claim compensation from the airline as it will be classed as a ‘cause outside of their control’. You may, however, be entitled to claim a ‘travel delay benefit’ from your travel insurer. This is not offered on every policy and will usually be a small amount paid for every set period of time you are delayed so be sure to check your policy wording. In some cases, where the delay is overnight, the airline may offer to provide you with accommodation. If the delay is more than 24-hours and you no longer wish to travel, you can ‘abandon’ your trip and claim back the costs from your travel insurer. Be careful though, as most travel insurance policies will stipulate that you needed to have been checked-in before the delay was announced.
In the event a flight is cancelled, it is usually the airlines responsibility to book you onto the next available flight. Some airlines, however, will simply offer to reimburse the cost of your flight leaving you with no other option than to find yourself an alternative flight, which is likely to be more costly due to the demand in people trying to get make it to their holiday destination. If your departing flight is cancelled and you are not offered an alternative within 24 hours of your original travel date you may be covered to cancel your holiday through your travel insurer, but be sure to check the policy wording for the terms and conditions.
If you are unlucky enough to experience a delay or cancellation on your return journey back to the UK, you will know just how draining it is. And unfortunately, there often isn’t a lot of help available either. In the event of a delay, your airline may provide you with accommodation until the flight is able to depart but more often than not people are left to fend for themselves in the airport. Compensation towards refreshments is also not provided if the delay is due to strike action, you may however be able to claim the travel delay benefit from your travel insurer that we spoke about earlier in this piece. In the event of a cancellation, your airline will either book you onto the next available flight, and in some cases offer accommodation, or they will reimburse you and it is your responsibility to find your own way home. It is worth noting, booking through a tour operator or travel agent offers you more protection in this circumstance as they have a duty of care to get you back to the UK so it is unlikely you will need to find your own way home.
Some travel insurance companies will offer to pay towards incurred fees as a result of a delay back to the UK i.e. car parking charges, additional kennel/cattery fees but these are few and far between so be sure to check the policy wording.
Secondly, we have force majeure events. This covers everything from fires, hurricanes and snow to war and terrorism. These events are usually unannounced and can happen at any time. Look at the fire at Luton Airport back in October of this year; a freak accident that caused havoc for flights. These events aren’t something we like to think about, but they happen frequently and can cause a lot of stress if they disrupt travel plans and you are unprepared.
Usually, force majeure events are not covered by travel insurance unless you have brought a force majeure extension, before an event was announced. If you have booked through a tour operator or travel agent, it may be possible to postponed, cancel or change your destination, but this will be solely down to the discretion of the company. Likewise, if you have booked your holiday yourself you will need to speak to your airline and accommodation provider separately. Most airlines will allow you to change your flight dates in the circumstances of a force majeure event. Similarly, accommodation providers such as Booking.com and Airbnb will offer free cancellation up to a set date and then partial cancellation up to the date you are due to arrive. This may be an option if a force majeure event was to happen and you no longer wish to travel. If force majeure happens while you are abroad and you have booked through a tour operator or travel agent, it is their responsibility to get you home again.
If you have booked independently, you will need to speak to the airline and may incur additional costs if flights are cancelled. Claiming for curtailment or cancellation because you no longer wanted to stay in the country or travel will not be covered by travel insurance, however if you have force majeure cover check the terms and conditions to make sure you know your rights.
Finally, we have seen major changes to the rules of visiting popular holiday destinations throughout 2023 as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) updated their travel advice and advised all but essential or no travel to certain areas. Catastrophic wildfires in Rhodes, flooding in India and the increased Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just to mention a few, have all caused the FCDO to change their travel advice this year. But what happens when this affects the destination you are supposed to be travelling to?
In the event that the FCDO advise against all but essential or no travel to a region and you have booked through a tour operator or travel agent, it is likely they will allow you to either cancel your holiday, move it to a later date or amend the destination you are travelling to. Those who have booked independently are in a slightly trickier position and will have to rely on the airline and accommodation providers terms and conditions for amendments and cancellations.
When it comes to travel insurance, there are a few policies out there that will offer the cost of cancellations, that cannot be reimbursed elsewhere, if the FCDO advises your destination is no longer safe to travel to. It becomes tricky, however, when they do not advise against travel but instead put safety advice in place. If you wish to cancel, but it has not been put onto the all but essential or no travel list, it is unlikely you will get your money back. This is termed disinclination to travel.
Despite all of this, and the continuing rise in costs, it’s not all doom and gloom for travel in 2023. The travel industry has seen exceptional growth over the year as more people are prioritising travel over other luxuries. This is expected to continue into 2024 and we are sure numbers will finally exceed pre-pandemic figures.
So, a few take home points before we leave you to enjoy the festivities and welcome in the new year.
- Always ensure you are buying through a reputable company and website. There are more scams than we can imagine out there, so remember, if it looks too good to be true, it often is.
- Once you have booked your holiday, buy your travel insurance. If you haven’t opted for an annual travel insurance policy, we recommend always making sure you buy your travel insurance shortly after booking your holiday so you are covered should anything happen and you need to cancel.
- While were on this topic, make sure you are reading your travel insurance policy wording. Like with anything now-a-days it isn’t a one size fits all scenario and cover will differ vastly between insurers so make sure you are buying a policy that is suitable for your needs and not just the cheapest.
- Know your rights! Knowing your rights is so important when it comes to travel dramas and will allow you to be more prepared for dealing with the unknown.
- Remember to check the entry requirements now we have left the EU. The ESTIAs are supposed to be coming into force in 2024 and you will not be able to enter a European country without one. Same goes for the ESTA (America) and other visas.