TRAFFIC LIGHTS – SHORT TERM DISRUPTION EXPECTED

What does the travel industry need to know?

The UK government has recently confirmed the introduction of a three-tier traffic light system for categorising countries for international travel to and from England. Unfortunately, we do not yet know which countries will be placed in each category; however, we do have a good indication as to what rules will be in place depending on whether that country is categorised as red, amber or green.
After reading the Global Travel Taskforce Report, countries will be categorised based on their COVID-19 risk levels, including the level of infection and the success and progress of the particular country’s vaccination programme. The measures below are only those introduced by the UK government for those who are travelling from the UK to other destinations; each country may have their own border controls and additional measures that travellers need to comply with to enter. The Taskforce has confirmed that the UK government will publish a list of “green” countries which will show the countries with the lowest risk, but that doesn’t mean people can just hop on a plane.

MEASURE

GREEN

AMBER

RED

Passenger Locator Form

Yes

Yes

Yes

Pre-departure test before UK arrival

Yes

Yes

Yes

Managed Quarantine at hotel

No

No

Yes

Self-isolation

No

10 days

10 days

Test to release

No

Yes on day 5

No

PCR testing

On or before day 2 of arrival into the UK

On or before day 2 of arrival into the UK

On or before day 2 of arrival into the UK

Further PCR testing

No

On day 8

On day 8

What if my client’s booked destination is green?

If your customers have a green country booked then, provided you can supply the services they have booked, the booking should continue as normal. Customers may not want to travel if they have to pay an additional fee for a PCR test but, as this does not trigger the right to a full refund under the PTRs, they will be subject to the normal cancellation charges as set out in your Booking Conditions should they wish to cancel for this reason.

What if my client’s booked destination is amber?

The amber category is the most uncertain and certainly the trickiest for travel companies to deal with. However, as with the above, if it is just the case that the customer has to self-isolate upon their return to the UK and pay for a PCR test, this does not trigger the right to a full refund under the PTRs because it doesn’t affect your ability to provide the travel services. Therefore, if they choose to cancel for this reason, they would be subject to the cancellation charges as should be set out in your Booking Conditions, or otherwise advised to the customer.

However, the most challenging aspect is the fact that there is a higher risk in these countries and so the customer may be unwilling to take that risk. This would be a disinclination to travel, which does not trigger the right to a full refund under the PTRs. However, it is possible that the CMA will take a different view here and, whilst the CMA guidance is not law, if they decided to take a stance and start court action on this issue there could be some battles ahead and so the industry should bear that in mind if they are refusing refunds.

 What if my client’s booked destination is red?

The red category is also pretty straightforward, especially if the FCDO advices against all but essential travel to these countries. Whilst the PTRs do not specifically mention FCDO advice and so there are arguments as to whether this does trigger the right to a full refund in accordance with Regulation 13 of the PTRs, the general stance within the industry is to refund customers in full in these circumstances and it may even be a requirement if you’re a member of a particular industry body.

There will also be a green watch list which will help travellers and businesses in the travel industry to identify countries most at risk of moving from green to amber! The Government will also formally review the measures on the 28th June, 31st July and 1st October, but have stressed that they will not hesitate to change countries from green to amber or red if the risk level increases. Whether the watch list will be in a published, fluid form remains to be seen.

What about consumer protection?

The Taskforce has also made recommendations in relation to customer confidence and clarity and will be introducing a new passenger COVID-19 charter that will set out consumer rights and responsibilities. The Taskforce have said they expect the travel industry to be ‘flexible’ when it comes to consumer bookings, but we have no further details yet as to what will be included in this COVID-19 charter and how flexible the Taskforce and Government expect the industry to be.

The Taskforce has confirmed that the Government will work with regulators across all modes of transport including aviation. The Government will be reforming the enforcement powers that the CAA has in respect of airlines that breach consumer rights and more detail of this is due to be published later this year. This is set to build on the CMA’s investigations on the practices of those operating within the industry, in particular their practices surrounding refunds.

What about my supplier contracts?

If you are legally required to provide your customers with a full refund then, unless you have very favourable terms in place with your suppliers or your suppliers are rather understanding, it is likely to be the case that you would have difficulty recovering these costs from your suppliers. This would mean you would be out of pocket if you refunded these customers or you would be acting in breach of the PTRs by failing to refund.

It would be worth getting ahead of this now, if you have the time, so that you understand your potential risks here. Take a look at your existing supplier agreements and establish what the cancellation terms are. We would be happy to assist with this if you’re not sure what the position is. If you don’t have any written terms, consider speaking to your suppliers (if you have a good relationship) to discuss what will happen if you need to cancel in such circumstances.  

Given that it appears COVID-19 will be around for the foreseeable future, we would also strongly recommend taking measures now to ensure that you have written contracts in place with all of your suppliers so that you have binding terms to rely on in future should you need to.

What about my booking conditions?

We would be happy to review your booking conditions and advise on any additional clauses relating to the new traffic-light system. However, it is key to note that any amended booking conditions will only apply to future bookings and not bookings that have been made but are yet to take place. Bookings which have already been taken will be based upon the booking conditions which you had in place at the time the contract was made. Alternatively, it could be helpful if you published a “FAQ” section on your website that dealt with the most likely questions that you would be asked by customers in relation to this traffic light system. If you’re interested in this, we would be happy to help!

Travlaw’s expert team will be discussing the Traffic Light system on their latest ‘Hot Topics’ session on Thursday 22nd April –

Register and ask our team your questions here. 

For further information and advice, contact Sophie Brazier on:

0113 258 0033

or email us on

advice@travlaw.co.uk

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