On March 30th the UK government announced it had struck a deal with several major airlines to help British tourists stuck abroad to return to the UK.
The government also pledged £75m to charter special flights from countries where commercial flights are unavailable.
The news came shortly after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised all British nationals to return home immediately.
So far, the government has helped bring back around 1.3m people who were trapped overseas. However, many tourists are still stuck in countries such as India and Pakistan, where the borders remain closed.
This is undeniably a worrying time for anyone stranded abroad. So, we have answered some of the most common questions on what to do if you are stuck in another country during the coronavirus pandemic.
How do I book a flight home?
Anyone stuck abroad where UK-bound flights are available should try and book a commercial flight as soon as possible. In the first instance, holidaymakers should contact their airline or tour operator to see what flights are available to them. If the airline or tour operator is unable to assist, then tourists should check to see if any other commercial flights or airlines are operating out of the country and book the flight immediately.
Tourists who are unable to book a commercial flight should check the government website to see if a special charter flight is available. To find this information visit the Foreign Office website and search for the country that you’re stuck in. There is a ‘Return to the UK’ section on every country’s travel advice page, which will explain what chartered flights are available, if possible, how to book a flight and how much this will cost you.
It’s worth noting that these flights are not free. Anyone who cannot afford to buy a ticket may be able to apply for an emergency loan from the FCO, but loans are based on individual circumstances and would need to be in place beforehand.
What if there aren’t any flights available?
If there are no commercial or special charter flights available for the country you are stuck in, then tourists should follow the guidance on the ‘Return to the UK’ section and read the Foreign Office’s advice on what to do if you cannot return from the country you are stuck in.
Britons stuck abroad should also follow the advice of local authorities to help minimise the risk of contracting the coronavirus. Travellers should also keep up to date with the FCO’s latest travel advice for any changes. The best way to keep up-to-date is by subscribing to email alerts of the country you are stuck in, that way any changes will appear straight in your inbox. Following the FCO on social media will also help keep you up-to-date and alert to any changes.
Will my travel insurance cover me for costs incurred while I have been stuck abroad?
Most travel insurance providers will look to extend your cover for up to 60 days if you are stuck abroad as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This is as long as you are making every effort to return home. However, some insurers may only extend your policy to cover you for any emergency medical costs incurred while you remain abroad.
Most policies will also not cover additional expenses incurred while you are abroad, such as food and accommodation. Although, there are a few policies that will offer a set amount of cover for travel, food, and accommodation costs as a result of a major incident. The amount available on these policies may be minimal and might not cover the full costs should you be stuck abroad for an extended time, which is also something to keep in mind.
If your policy provides this cover it will come under the ‘if your trip was disrupted due to a major incident’ section. We recommend checking exactly what cover is provided under this section on your specific policy and what circumstances your insurer deems as a ‘major incident’. For example, some policies class ‘major incidents’ as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis and not necessarily infectious diseases. However, if you do need confirmation around this, we advise getting in touch with your insurer as soon as possible.
Those who had flights booked to return to the UK initially but were unable to board due to border closures etc. should contact the airline they had originally booked through and request a refund for the cancelled flight.
Those who had flights cancelled by their airline and required additional accommodation, as a result, should also contact the airline to discuss their expenses. Airlines have a responsibility under Article 9 of EU Regulation 261/04 to provide accommodation and cover food expenses if they cancelled your flight.
Lastly, any Britons who decide to stay in the country they are stuck in and do not make an effort to return to the UK will unfortunately not be covered by their travel insurance, as the FCO has told UK residents to return immediately.
What should I do when I return to the UK?
When you return to the UK you should follow government advice. This includes staying at home and only going outside for food, exercise or work if you cannot work from home. If you do experience any coronavirus symptoms, such as a high temperature or frequent cough, you should self-isolate for seven days and call 111 if your symptoms worsen.