Q: Our airline cancelled a booking due to industrial action. After several hours their customer service advised to either curtail the trip and return early, or try another airline as they had no available flights. Don’t they have some duty of care to get me home?
A: Absolutely the airlines have a duty of care, and they know exactly what the rules are.
According to a letter from the Civil Aviation Authority and the Competition & Markets Authority sent to UK airlines on 21 July 2022, airlines that cancel a flight must “have in place reasonably appropriate organisation and support staff to source replacement flights and complete the booking if consumers wish to take up this offer”.
In other words, after a flight is cancelled you should not be left to get on with it.
The letter has stipulations for airlines that cancel flights, for whatever reason. The authorities make clear that ailines must have arrangements to find, and pay for, alternative flights for passengers.
The CAA and CMA say: “We note that some airlines ask passengers to make their own arrangements if rerouting is on another carrier. However, we have concerns that in some cases, this is likely to breach professional diligence standards for those consumers who are not in a position to do so.
“For example, those who may be unable to: investigate or book alternative routes; self-fund the purchase of flight tickets and accommodation; or to afford to wait for reimbursement, would not be able to benefit from their statutory rights in the event of flight cancellation.
“We urge airlines operating this practice to quickly put in place mechanisms for these consumers to ensure re-routing is a viable option for them.”
But the obligations that were set out so clearly at the start of the summer peak season have been widely flouted. I have asked the current transport secretary why airlines have not been brought into line.
I am still waiting for a response.
Q: Our airline has moved my wife and I on to a later flight for our return from Florida in May next year. It departs just over an hour later. But as they appear to have removed our original flight from the schedule and put everyone on to the existing later flight, we are no longer sitting together and the flight is full (as it’s now two planes’ worth of people).
We are nervous flyers and sitting next to strangers will not be fun for us or them. I’ve called the airline, but they say as they change is less than three hours and we are still in the class of our original booking, that they aren’t obliged to do anything. Although the flight number and time has been changed by the airline, we can’t make any changes without incurring a charge. Are they correct?
A: How infuriating for you. The short answer is that because your flight has been cancelled, you should be entitled to a full refund for the whole thing. I sense, though, that you are rather more interested in getting to sit together than in cancelling the whole itinerary.
The context: “consolidating” flights happens frequently, especially as airlines seek to limit their losses. If two departures in quick succession on the same airline are lightly loaded, it makes environmental as well as commercial sense to combine them.
But I am genuinely baffled by the idea that every seat on the plane is showing as allocate at a point over six months from departure. Normally airlines like to hold a number of seats unallocated until shortly before departure to allow (for example) family groups booking late to be assigned seats together.
Anyway, if you make your concern and wish to sit together known at check-in on the day, and again at the gate, and (if necessary) on boarding the plane, I am sure there will be some suitable shuffling. I agree, though, that this is a far from ideal situation, and your airline should have treated you with more consideration.
Q: Since UK citizens have been removed from the Indian eVisa system it has become necessary to apply for a paper visa in person. But it is impossible to make an appointment at any of the visa centres around the UK. We are due to travel to India on 27 December, do have any advice on how to obtain a visa at this time?
A: Sorry to hear about your position – which is shared by tens of thousands of British people who have holidays booked in India over the winter. Dozens of specialist travel firms face ruin because they are having to hand back money to their clients who are unable to travel. And countless Indian families who are dependent on British tourism face severe hardship because of the decision of the government in Delhi.
The background: before the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of UK visitors to India entered India on an eVisa – a relatively simple online system. India closed its borders as the Covid crisis spread, and the service was suspended. It has now been restored for nationals of “156 eligible countries” from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, including all 27 European Union members. But the UK, previously one of the key tourism markets for India, is excluded.
As you say, the only alternative is to make an application for a full Indian visa, which requires a personal interview. But the post-Covid backlog is so long that the waiting time is running into months. With 10 weeks remaining before your trip it is touch-and-go as to whether any Indian visa appointments will become available at one of the 10 application centres in the UK. These are located in Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, London (central and Hounslow) and Manchester.
This most regrettable state of affairs is matched only by the bizarre decision by the US to penalise travellers who happen to have visited Cuba in the past 11 years. Bharat Gadhoke, head of commercial for the Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito) says: “The collateral damage is going to be felt by the keen tourists who have long looked forward to visiting this diverse country, some having delayed their travel plans for two years or more.”
Rather like the political turmoil in Westminster, this state of affairs cannot continue for long. At present I am pinning my hopes on a change of heart tied in with the biggest event in the UK travel calendar: World Travel Market, which takes place 7-9 November. India traditionally has a big presence there. It would be beyond embarrassing for the enterprises from India trying to drum up business to be greeted with a shrug, and the message: we’re off to Sri Lanka instead. So I am expecting a ministerial announcement. It can’t come fast enough. Please bear in mind that I am usually overoptimistic about the removal of red tape.
Politically, the government in Delhi is furious about the tight restrictions the British authorities place on Indian visitors to the UK. The principle of “reciprocity” on visa matters is long established: If country A makes unreasonable demands on citizens from country B, then B may reciprocate with equivalent regulations.
But the departure from government of Suella Braverman may improve things, after she said Indians are the “largest group of people who overstay” their visas in the UK.
Q: Should we consider somewhere else for a winter holiday if our planned December trip to India does not happen?
A: In terms of a warm and fascinating destination in late December and January, I probably wouldn’t search much further then Egypt – though Sri Lanka and Thailand are also possibilities.
Q: I am hoping to travel to Chile in February 2023. But have the Covid testing on arrival rules changed? Having read the UK government website I am not certain.
A: As throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the only rules that count are those imposed by the government of the nation you hope to visit. Earlier this week Chile eased its rules: the post-arrival Covid test is no longer required. The rules are either: “Certificate of vaccination issued in the country where he/she was vaccinated” or “A negative result in a PCR test within a maximum of 48 hours from departure”.
Under 18s need not provide any documentation.
Anyway, whatever the rules are now, you are at least 15 weeks away from your trip. Summer is on the way to Chile, and I predict that travel restrictions will be eased still further.