United Kingdom

Travel insurers should NOT ask customers to get GP letters to cancel holidays over coronavirus fears

Insurers and travel companies should not ask customers for GP letters if they are seeking holiday refunds over coronavirus fears, doctors have said.

The Royal College of GPs said it had heard reports of businesses asking people for letters from their GPs in order for them to cancel holidays due to the spread of Covid-19.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said firms are looking at claims on a 'case by case basis', but cancellations on medical grounds are 'likely to require medical evidence'.

 Insurers and travel companies should not ask customers for GP letters if they are seeking holiday refunds over coronavirus fears, doctors have said

Royal College of GPs chairman professor Martin Marshall said: 'Insurers and travel companies should be basing their decisions to offer refunds on advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Public Health England, not letters from GPs.

'It is not a good use of GPs' time to be writing letters for patients who are not ill but have plans to travel - and GPs will always base their decisions on official advice.

'Patients will undoubtedly have good and sensible reasons for not wanting to travel to certain places because of Covid-19, but this is not the same as being unable to travel due to existing illness, and it should not become the GP's responsibility to give patients advice about where not to travel.'

An ABI spokeswoman said concerned customers should speak to their insurer if they declared pre-existing conditions when they bought their cover for travel.

She said: 'Our understanding is that insurers are looking at this on a case by case basis and may require medical evidence if someone puts in a cancellation claim, saying their pre-existing condition could be exacerbated by coronavirus.

'Any claim on a medical basis is likely to require medical evidence, so this is normal.'

However, holidaymakers whose trips end up cancelled due to coronavirus should be able to make a claim through their travel insurance - without a doctor's note.

Neil Wright, the founder and managing director of Coverforyou.com, told MailOnline that if you bought travel insurance when you booked your holiday, you will be protected if the country you are due to visit becomes an area the Foreign Office advises against travel to in the future.

Holidaymakers whose trips end up cancelled due to coronavirus should be able to make a claim through their travel insurance - without a doctor's note. Pictured is a guest at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in Tenerife, which is on lockdown due to the virus 

 If you cancel your holiday to a destination where there are no travel restrictions, claiming a refund through travel insurance could prove tricky - even impossible

But he added: 'Bear in mind, insurance cannot be purchased to cover an area which is already under lockdown.

'At the moment this is Italy, but with things changing by the day, another reason we urge clients to purchase their insurance as soon as possible is so they are safeguarded against further areas being locked down.'

However, if you cancel your holiday to a destination where there are no travel restrictions, claiming a refund through travel insurance could prove tricky - even impossible.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, explained: 'While the government has now updated its advice to cover the Italian locations that have experienced an outbreak, those travelling to nearby cities like Milan or Verona still won't be able to cancel and claim on their travel insurance, nor will those travelling to Tenerife.

'Instead, you will have to rely on your travel operator's or airline's goodwill if you want to arrange an alternative holiday or rebook a flight at a later date. Some travel agents and airlines are offering worried travellers the chance to change plans where possible.

'If your travel company can't help, contact your insurance provider directly to find out if they will cover you as some insurance companies will review scenarios on a case-by-case basis.'

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS AFFECTING TRAVEL 

What is current Foreign Office advice regarding travel and coronavirus?

The Foreign Office now advises against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto in Italy, which have been isolated by the Italian authorities.

These towns are Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano and Vo’ Euganeo.

The Foreign Office also advises against all travel to Hubei Province in China, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak. There is advice against all but essential travel to elsewhere in mainland China.

Will my travel insurance policy cover me if my holiday is cancelled due to coronavirus?

According to Neil Wright, the founder and managing director of Coverforyou.com, if you have bought travel insurance when you booked your holiday, you will be protected if the country you are due to visit becomes an area the Foreign Office advises against travel to in the future.

But he added: 'Bear in mind, insurance cannot be purchased to cover an area which is already under lockdown.

'At the moment this is Italy, but with things changing by the day, another reason we urge clients to purchase their insurance as soon as possible so they are safeguarded against further areas being locked down.'

What should I do when looking for travel insurance?

When it comes to purchasing travel insurance, Su Crown, a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI), told MailOnine Travel: 'Don't just go for the cheapest option.

'Make sure you read all of the clauses so that if you do have to cancel your trip due to coronavirus, you are covered.

'Make sure that everybody you are travelling with is on the same policy so everybody has the same level of cover.'

If I want to cancel my holiday to a destination where there are no travel restrictions, will my insurer refund me?

If you cancel your holiday to a destination where there are no travel restrictions, claiming a refund through travel insurance could prove tricky - even impossible.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, explained: 'While the government has now updated its advice to cover the Italian locations that have experienced an outbreak, those travelling to nearby cities like Milan or Verona still won't be able to cancel and claim on their travel insurance, nor will those travelling to Tenerife.  

'Instead, you will have to rely on your travel operator’s or airline’s goodwill if you want to arrange an alternative holiday or rebook a flight at a later date. Some travel agents and airlines are offering worried travellers the chance to change plans where possible.

'If your travel company can’t help, contact your insurance provider directly to find out if they will cover you as some insurance companies will review scenarios on a case-by-case basis.'

If I am sick or elderly, can I cancel my holiday to a destination where there has been a coronavirus outbreak or do I need a sick note?

If you are booked to travel to an area where the Foregin Office advises against going to, you shouldn't need a sick note to claim on your travel insurance.

However, the Telegraph reports that in a survey of 11 major insurers, seven would only consider refunding trips to the elderly or the sick where there is an outbreak of coronavirus if the customer can provide a doctor's sick note.

But Dr Richard Vautrey, the GP committee chair at the British Medical Association said it was 'completely inappropriate' for customers to approach their family doctors for sick notes.

He said: 'Practices are under intense pressure, especially at this time of year, and this is not a good use of GP time, taking doctors away from treating ill patients coming through their doors.'

Instead, he suggested patients could request a summary of their pre-exisiting health conditions but it is unclear if insurers will accept a generic medical history as proof a person is unfit to travel to a coronavirus hit area. 

Are airlines cancelling flights due to coronavirus?

This is the current status of flights on UK and Irish airlines:

British Airways

British Airways has cancelled a number of its flights to and from Milan today and are merging them with others, due to a reduced demand due to coronavirus.

A spokesperson said: 'We will be contacting customers on cancelled flights so we can discuss their travel options including alternative British Airways flights within two hours of their original departure time where possible, full refunds or booking for a later date of travel.

'We understand that some customers flying to/from Northern Italy may wish to change their travel plans and have introduced flexible booking options. Customers can also find the latest information and options on BA.com.'

British Airways has also cancelled flights to mainland China until April 17.

EasyJet

EasyJet says that all of its flights are operating as normal and 'standard terms and conditions on tickets continue to apply'. This means no refunds will be offered to people who choose not to fly.

A spokesman added: 'We would like to reassure customers that our existing policies and procedures are in line with the guidance provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and EASA.

'We remain in regular contact with them and will amend our procedures if and when required if guidance changes. The health and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is the airline’s highest priority.'

The fee to change an easyJet flight ranges from £25 to £52.

Ryanair

According to the Ryanair website, all of its flights, including those to Italy are operating as normal.

The airline says: 'There is currently no change to advice for airlines. Our flights are operating as normal and all our terms and conditions apply.'

This means no refunds will be offered to people who choose not to fly. To change flights on Ryanair, fees range from £35 to £95.

Jet2

Jet2 says its flying programme today remains unchanged. A spokesman said: 'Foreign Office guidance shows that there are no travel restrictions in place to any of our destinations. '

Tui

Tui says there are no cancellations or delays to its flights due to coronavirus. The tour operator says it is 'monitoring the situation closely'.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has suspended its flights to mainland China because of the virus.

Aer Lingus

The Irish carrier says it 'continues to operate flights to and from all destinations on our network'.

Passengers who have booked through the Aer Lingus website who want to change the dates or destinations of their flights should visit the airline's website.

Other airlines have suspended flights to destinations where there have been outbreaks of the coronavirus such as Iran, South Korea and China.

Qatar Airways has suspended flights to South Korea and Iran and Delta has suspended and reduced services between the US and Seoul.

Emirates has suspended flights to Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia and to some Chinese destinations.

Etihad has suspended flights to Shanghai, Chengdu and Nagoya in Japan. Flights to Hong Kong have also been suspended to Hong Kong until March 28 due to reduced demand.

American Airlines says it is 'continuing to closely monitor the situation and will make any updates as necessary'.

Can I get a refund if my flight from the UK is cancelled due to coronavirus?

If your flight from the UK is cancelled, you should be offered either a refund or a replacement flight - even with a different airline - to your destination.

You can also be offered the chance to change the dates of travel.

What if I am catching a connecting flight to my holiday destination through an area where the Foreign Office advises against travelling to?

In this case, the airline should re-route your ticket so that you reach your final destination by connecting in an airport where it is safe to travel to.

What if I have booked two flights to a get to a destination separately on different airlines but one is cancelled?

You can only claim a refund for the flight that is cancelled. This is because airlines have no responsibility for any prior or subsequent flights you take.

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