Most European airlines have issued waivers allowing passengers to cancel their tickets to China and get a full refund amidst the ongoing Wuhan corona virus crisis.
Almost all major European legacy carriers have issued so-called waivers for flight tickets to and from China. These waivers allow passengers to either schedule their ticket to a future date or to get a full refund – without paying any additional change fees or cancellation costs.
Normally, most airline tickets cannot be cancelled and refunded or changed to a later date, with this being especially true for tickets in cheaper booking classes. If the fare conditions of a ticket do allow for flight changes, then passengers would usually still incur a ticket reissue fee and might need to pay additional costs if the same cheap booking class is not available anymore at a future date.
Only fully flexible tickets can be changed or refunded for free in normal circumstances, but these tickets come at an extra cost. It is not uncommon for a fully flexible economy class ticket to cost the same price as a semi-restricted business class ticket.
The Air France/KLM airline group is one of the major European airlines which has issued a waver allowing passengers booked on a flight to or from China to change the dates into the future or to cancel their ticket outright with the costs fully refund.
An Air France statement read: “Further to the health situation in China (coronavirus), we offer you rebooking options at no extra cost, if you wish to postpone or cancel your trip.
“In the meantime, we would like to assure you that our teams follow the situation with attention and are fully mobilized to assist you and minimize the impact on your travel plans.”
British Airways has issued a similar waiver for passengers who are set to travel to China or Hong Kong in the next few weeks. Those who have a flight before 23rd February can request a full refund from the British flag carrier.
Chinese carriers such as China Southern, China Eastern, Hainan Airlines and Air China have also issued flight waivers allowing passengers to ask for a refund or postponement of their travel plans. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is another major carrier which has also issued a similar waiver.
Finnair, which has a big presence in China and the wider Asian region, has gone even further and decided to cancel some flights to China altogether. The routes to Beijing and Nanjing are suspended until the end of March. Affected customers can contact the airline for a refund or try to get rerouted on other Finnair flights or on another airline.
The Finnish airline came to the decision after the Chinese Government suspended all group tour travels. Reportedly, these two flights have a much higher proportion of Chinese tour groups than other flights from China, making them no longer economically viable for the time being.
Among the other airlines who have waived cancellation or date change fees for flights to and from China are Emirates, Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines, Air India and IndiGo.
Do note that each airline mentioned above can have their own restrictions in place. Some airlines might only offer free refunds and changes on flights to certain Chinese cities only, while others will only do this on flights departing in the next couple of weeks and will not (yet) allow it for people who are set to fly late February or March.
As a lot (for the worse or better) can change on the ground in China when it comes to the corona virus situation, expect airlines to monitor the situation closely and update their waivers and regulations in the future.
Own travel plans
I was originally set to travel to China as well on a China Eastern flight ticket with a 24-hour stopover in Kunming in Yunnan Province on a journey from Asia back to Europe.
As I was no longer comfortable travelling through China I also opted to refund the ticket. As the China Eastern ticket was booked using Flying Blue miles, I had to call the Air France hotline for this, where a friendly employee confirmed the flight waiver being in effect. Within just a few minutes, I got the frequent flyer miles redeposited back on my Flying Blue account and the taxes which I paid refunded on my credit card.
Currently 4,598 people are infected by the virus across the world, with Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province being the centre of the outbreak. Most patients (4,527) are found in China, although there are also confirmed cases in the United States, France and Germany among other countries.
In total 71 people have succumbed to the virus, all of them in China. Even though old people and those with previous medical conditions are at the highest risk, the virus has also claimed an able-bodied victim as young as 36.
We reached out to Belgian virologist and doctor Marc van Ranst on Twitter what his take was on travel to China.
Dr van Ranst said: “I would at the moment recommend to postpone non-essential travels to China. If the trip is unavoidable, I would take one FFP3/N95 mask for each day at the destination.”
The Belgian doctor and professor of virology at the KU Leuven University referred to the face masks which can help protect you against respiratory aerosols such as the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. Make sure that you know how to properly wear an N95 mask as lots of people are unfamiliar with these respirators.
It is a generally a good idea to check your own country’s travel advisory when it comes to China, as this can differ between certain countries. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for example also gives the advice to avoid all nonessential travel to China.
Do also notice that these masks do not offer 100 percent protection and it is equally vital to frequently wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important before meals and after touching objects which could contain contaminated aerosols, for example a door knob of a public building.
If you do touch these objects, make sure not to touch your own face with your hand before washing them.
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