I’m writing this post, confined to the restrictions of my home as London has now gone full lockdown amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeping the world. I am, however, grateful that I made it home safe and healthy.
Travelling & Coronavirus
This month I was supposed to be enjoying the sun on a beach somewhere in the Philippines…. drinking a cocktail and eating amazing food with my family and friends. But sometimes, things don’t always go to plan. Unfortunately, the recent coronavirus outbreak has forced a lot of restrictions on travel. And rightly so, as this is a global pandemic which is a potential threat to anyone and everyone around the world.
I managed to fly out to the Philippines for a few days before Manila went into lockdown. Once there, the government announced that all airports would be closing and all flights shut down within 72 hours (before lifting the travel ban a day before!). In shock and panicked, I decided to re-book my flight, pack my bags and head home as soon as possible in order to ensure I could get back to London. There’s still a lot of uncertainty for travellers and people hoping to travel at the moment, so I wanted to share my experiences to help others.
Cancelled Flights: What Are Your Rights?
If you are due to travel and are unsure about your options, you should firstly check with the airline directly. However, if the cancellation was announced well in advance of your departure, you should be able to claim a refund, exchange or re-book for future dates.
If your flights are cancelled whilst you are abroad, the airline should be able to book you on an alternative flight. And if the airline has cancelled all flights you should also enquire about being booked via an alternative airline.
You should also check with your travel insurance to see if you are covered with them. It’s worth noting that this is only an option if you had already setup travel insurance before the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, most insurers are no longer covering anything to do with coronavirus.
Can/Should I Reschedule My Flight During The Coronavirus Pandemic?
Most airlines are offering free re-booking options with no charges should you wish to move your travel dates. I booked with Emirates and whilst I was out there, they updated their policy to waive all fees when rescheduling a flight. They have now even gone as far as automatically offering travel vouchers for re-booking flights. So there is no need to cancel a flight or worry about being a “no-show”. However, be sure to check what your airline’s current policy is in order to follow the correct guidelines.
Should you reschedule your flight? If you are travelling from the UK, you may have no choice but to cancel or reschedule your travel plans. This is because the government has advised against all non-essential travel. This is likely to be the same for most countries as tighter travel restrictions are coming into place. So my advice is to ‘STAY HOME’!
Whilst this may not be the answer that you want to hear – it’s for the greater good. So do your part in helping to minimise the spread of COVID-19 and stay home!
Help! I’m Stuck In A Foreign Country, What Should I Do?
This was my biggest worry when I arrived in Manila to find out that the country was doing into lockdown. At the time, it was simply restricted to the city and domestic flights. But within a day, the government had announced they would be doing country-wide quarantine and restricting all flights within 72 hours.
If you find yourself in a similar situation – please stay calm! There’s nothing worse then being away from home and dealing with something as stressful as this. So, take a deep breath, and think logically. First things first, get in touch with your travel agent or airline directly. Unfortunately, it is likely that they are experiencing a high number of calls as many people will also be affected by the situation. If you’re unable to get through to someone, try their social channels. I was able to get someone to deal with my issue quickly via Twitter and given direct email contact.
You should also look to see if the airline or travel company have a local number to contact, as you may not be in the same time zone as the original number you called. Most major airlines will have local offices that will be able to assist you. If all else fails, the airport should also have a dedicated Helpdesk for your airline. So you may be better of speaking to someone in person.
In worst case scenarios, you could also reach out to your local national embassy. This should be your last resort and should be used if you have no other options. They may be able to help you get home if you have exhausted all other options.
I’m Travelling In The Next Few Days… What Should I Expect?
As can be expected, there are a lot of travel restrictions and check points in place to try to minimise the spread of coronavirus. This will of course vary country to country. But I can speak upon what I am seeing right now in the UK as well as what I had experienced in the Philippines.
In the UK, as of 23rd March 2020, the government refers to the pandemic as a “moment of national emergency” and has imposed strict travel restrictions within the country. Stating that everyone should stay home and avoid leaving the house (and to work from home) unless going to buy essentials such as groceries and medicine. Unless you are a key worker, such as a doctor, nurse, fire/policeman or teacher – you should aim to stay home. It has also been advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of the UK and that you should return to the UK at the earliest available option.
Due to these restrictions, most businesses are closed. This includes restaurants, shops (not selling essential goods), hotels and bars. Travel via London transport is also limited. Trains and buses are running weekend services (longer wait times) and some stations closed. Police are also able to enforce a fine if you are spotted outside without valid reason.
The Philippines is a whole other story…. Manila is in total lockdown. With a curfew from 8am to 5pm to ensure limited travel and people outside of their home. Travel throughout the city is also limited to travelling for essentials. And military checkpoints have also been set up between the town borders. An additional step is that you may be subject to a temperature check before entering buildings and grocery stores. (I was refused entry to a supermarket because my temp measured 37.5?!) There are also thermal body scanners in place at Manila airport and you will be stopped if you show an elevated temperature.
In terms of airports and flights… The airports seem to be very quite at the moment as less people should be travelling. Note that all airport stores and restaurants in Manila were closed but they were completely open in Dubai from what I saw at my stopover. However, some flights are also extra busy as more people re-book return flights home and some airlines having to cancel routes and flights. Not sure what it is like in other countries, but in Manila, we were only allowed one chaperone to the airport and they would have to provide evidence via copies of tickets to show at military checkpoints.
Wow… Loads Of Cheap Flights, Should I Book Something Now?
Whilst it may be tempting to jump online and book a cheap getaway in the hopes that this will all clear up soon… things are still uncertain. So I don’t advise on booking a trip for any time soon. However, if you are able to find some good deals on for a few months ahead, I would book with caution. If you are able to book and reschedule for free if things don’t change, then that would be the best option.
The situation is changing on a daily basis, with more and more countries going on lockdown. Travel plans for the next few months are likely to be affected by this. So for now, let’s partake in a staycation at home and start planning for the next big trip – whenever that may be…
I’ve also put together a list of useful links and resources below if you want any further information on travelling during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Have your travel plans been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak? Have you got any travel booked in the near future?