YOUR TRAVEL AND LEISURE LAW TEAM

Climate Change & Travel Claims: Part 1 – Extreme Heat!

This is the first in a series of articles exploring how climate change is likely to impact the travel industry over the next few years!

Sun, Sea and Sand! The three main attractions that most people look forward to when jetting off on their well-earned summer holiday, writes Conor Askins. But what happens when one of these elements becomes a bit too much!? In recent days, the UK Government has issued various advice for those travelling to destinations in Europe, including several popular tourist destinations for UK travellers. Southern European destinations have even recorded temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius (°C).

The UK Government is not advising against travel to these popular destinations; rather they are simply highlighting the potential dangers to travellers and, in some cases, encouraging individuals to check with their travel provider before jetting off.

What is an Organiser’s legal position if a customer asks to cancel their package holiday due to temperature concerns?

What do the Regulations say?

As we well know by now, a customer’s right to cancel their package holiday prior to departure is governed by Reg 12(7) of the Package Travel Regulations, which states

‘in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect—

(a)the performance of the package, or

(b)the carriage of passengers to the destination,

the traveller may terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any termination fee’

For those travelling from the UK to Europe via air, or indeed rail, carriage is not a point of concern with airlines and trains running as planned despite the high temperatures. But what about performance of the package?

In the majority of cases, it will be unlikely that a traveller will be entitled to cancel a package travel contract, without paying a termination fee, simply because of high temperatures at their place of destination. If we take an example where a customer has purchased the classic ‘flight and hotel package’ to Spain. Despite the high temperatures, an organiser will still be able to perform the elements of the package contract as agreed (the flight will still fly and the customer will be able to check in to the hotel; enjoying the swimming pool and the restaurants and everything else while they are there). It was not as if Organisers promise customers that their destination will remain at a specific temperature during their stay! Now of course, customers will have to use some common sense and perhaps not spend as much time on a sun lounger by the pool, instead opting to spend some time in the shade, but from a legal perspective there is nothing to suggest that performance of the package will be affected.

What if the temperatures result in elements of the Package being cancelled?

In some instances it may be that the severe temperatures mean some elements of the Package cannot go ahead, meaning we find ourselves in Regulation 11 territory.  For example, a customer who books a package holiday advertised as ‘Mount Olympus Hiking Tour’ during which customers are promised ‘three days of adventure and exploration in the Greek mountains, trekking for a minimum of 5 hours per day’. If the hiking excursion is still able to go ahead but the customer does not wish to partake, this would be a matter for their travel insurer. However, if the supplier of the hiking excursion cancels it themselves, advising that it is no longer safe to proceed, the absence of this element would undoubtedly amount to a significant change to the booking meaning that the customer has the option to cancel with a full refund (but no compensation) if a suitable alternative cannot be offered.

What happens if a customer gets into difficulty whilst in destination as a result of the extreme temperatures?

There is nothing new when it comes to holidaymakers enjoying a little too much sun, and we have likely all experienced ourselves, at one point or another, the repercussions of too many cocktails and not enough water! Many people go on holiday specifically expecting there to be good weather, and complain if they do not get it(!) – (that’s an article for another day!), but what happens if a customer gets into difficulty because of these unusually high temperatures?   

All individuals are expected to take reasonable steps to look after their own health & safety when they travel, and this scenario is no different. Simple steps such as drinking water, keeping cool, and staying out of the midday heat are really matters of ‘common sense’ however there is no harm in reminding your customers, especially in light of the unusually hot conditions.

It is not uncommon for travellers to suffer some symptoms when being exposed to increased temperatures, but responsibility or subsequent liability is unlikely to lie with an organiser. Of course, if an Organiser is made aware of a customer in difficulty, they are required to provide ‘appropriate assistance’ as per Reg 18. This could include providing information on local health services (so contacting a local doctor or other health care provider for example) or assisting in making long distance communications if they needed to contact anyone back home, but note that you can charge a reasonable fee for such assistance, equal to that of any cost yourself incurred.

How does the situation vary with the wildfires on Rhodes and Corfu?

Unlike with extreme heat, wildfires are likely to be considered ‘unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’ for the purpose of Reg 12(7), and so customers would be able to elect to have a full refund if they are due to travel imminently (however no additional compensation would be payable).

Where organisers pro-actively decide to cancel bookings, Reg 13 will apply, meaning that they must refund the full cost of the package, but where this is due to ‘unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’ they would not be liable to pay any further compensation.

Where the customer’s holiday has already started, Reg 15 will apply – which states that the organiser is bound to provide the services agreed in the package contract, or ‘suitable alternative arrangements’. If no such arrangements can be made, and the package includes transport (eg. flights) then the traveller should be repatriated. As the organiser has not been able to deliver the contracted travel services, Reg 15 says the traveller will be entitled to a ‘price reduction’ – although it does not state how such a price reduction would be calculated! See our article on price reductions here.

Of course where wildfires are concerned, Reg 18 will oblige the organiser to give travellers who are in difficulty ‘appropriate assistance’ – this would certainly include travellers who have been evacuated from their hotels.

Summary

The sun may have become slightly too uncomfortable for travellers in the past few weeks, but temperatures in themselves are unlikely to give customers a right to cancel their trip without being subject to termination fees. Organisers can assist their customers by keeping them well informed before they jet off on their holiday, providing general advice and of course being on hand to assist if a customer does come into difficulty whilst travelling. In the case of wildfires however, organisers will have greater obligations under the PTRs and should treat their customers accordingly.


[This article was originally published on 20th July 2023. It was amended on 24th July to reflect the developing situation of wildfires in Rhodes and Corfu.]

If you have any questions regarding this article, or need advice about anything related contact Conor at;

conor@travlaw.co.uk

or call us on

0113 258 0033

This article was originally published on: 20 July 2023

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