Finding yourself stranded in a foreign country is a worst nightmare for holidaymakers, and probably the last thing they would anticipate when jetting off on that initial flight. However, for many people across the world, that nightmare has rapidly become a reality due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Around the world countries are enforcing strict travel bans, blocking international citizens from crossing their borders and putting a stop to travel.
Amid the chaos, airlines are suffering too, with big name fliers all but stopping their itineraries.
Some airlines continue to offer limited commercial routes where they can, to help bring home stranded holidaymakers, meanwhile the government has announced it is working with British Airways, easyJet, Virgin, Jet2 and Titan on special repatriation missions.
Yet some Britons are still posting on social media about being “stranded”.
Myles Quee, a travel expert from SendMyBag, spoke with Express.co.uk to explain what options are available to Britons and how they can stay safe which they await their journey home.
“There’s a whole host of reasons why a country might close its borders, including political upheaval, social unrest and war,” he explained.
“But recently the main reason has been the coronavirus crisis.
“Since a pandemic was officially declared on 11th March, we’ve seen nation after nation limit travel, and we are now in a situation where 93 percent of the human population – or 7.2 billion people – live in countries with travel restrictions.”
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For those of us at home with cancelled holiday plans, such restrictions may be cumbersome, but it is even worse for those who are still abroad.
“Along with border closures, we’ve seen countries such as Argentina, Australia and South Korea, impose 14-day quarantines on all foreign travellers who’ve arrived from a country with a recent coronavirus case,” continues Myles.
“This not only limits what the holidaymaker can do during their trip, but also means that they are at risk of missing their flights home and being stranded abroad with other alternative flights either unavailable or at a huge additional cost.”
So what can travellers do if they find themselves in this position?
“For anyone trapped abroad, airlines, travel companies and insurers should be your first port of call,” advises Myles.
“But if these options are unavailable and you are truly stranded, then you need to contact the British Embassy and make yourself known to the government.
“Since the coronavirus outbreak, the government has arranged to repatriate Britons stuck in countries with no open commercial routes at a cost of approximately £75million.
“These flights are advertised by the embassy or high commission on their travel advice pages and social media. Therefore, it is paramount that anyone stuck abroad monitors these two channels of communication.”
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Myles emphasises the urgency to return to the UK, and anyone currently still abroad should explore every option available.
“The British Government warned against all non-essential travel both internationally and within the UK last month,” he points out.
“People booked to go abroad should stay at home, and those British nationals that are overseas should plan to come home as soon as possible or may risk finding themselves trapped.”
Alas, many travellers may find themselves out of pocket if having to book a new flight to get home, or pay the expenses tied to a seat onboard one of the government’s new repatriation flights.
Sadly, it is not always certain that an airline or even travel insurer will be able to financially reimburse passengers.
When it comes to holidays, it depends what type of holiday travellers are on and how far in advance it was booked.
Myles explains: “If you are on a package holiday you should talk to your tour operator about getting home.
“It is their legal duty to make alternative arrangements as quickly as possible – although, this process may be slowed by the sheer number of people seeking emergency transport.
“Those with pre-booked flights who want to return early should contact their carrier or travel agent.
“But this is quite a long slow process via the phone and people should expect delays as call centres struggle to meet demand and grapple with the same coronavirus related logistical challenges we are all facing.”
Additionally travel insurers may pay out, but this depends on the small print of your policy along with when the policy was taken out.
“Travel insurers may be able to offer some guidance, but please read the terms and conditions of your policy carefully first,” warns Myles.
“It is common for them to claim that this is not an insurance issue and the travel provider, rather than the travel insurer, is responsible.”
What’s more, many insurers have now amended their coverage to only provide coronavirus support to those whoo purchased policies before March 11 – the day the World Health Organisation named the virus a pandemic.
“Ending your holiday before your return date can mean you’re at a financial loss and decide to claim back expenses on your travel insurance, this is also known as curtailment,” says Myles.
“Many policies cover curtailment as standard, but this may not always be the case. If your policy covers curtailment then your travel insurance company will assess a refund pro-rata for any accommodation, car hire and excursions you paid for in advance but can no longer use.
“For instance, if you had booked a two-week holiday but had to return home after five days then the insurer would refund you for the nine days of accommodation you didn’t use.”
Even if financial losses do appear unavoidable, Myles says that your health and safety should is paramount.
“While booking a brand-new flight back to the UK may seem like a frustrating expense, it’s important to note that this price will be dwarfed by the possible financial and emotional impact of being stuck abroad,” he says.
“Remember, the coronavirus crisis currently has no end date and therefore any British national who chooses to ignore the government’s advice could find themselves trapped abroad for a significant period.”
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