Your much awaited vacation to Asia or Europe is fast-approaching and suddenly you've started to take notice of the non-stop coronavirus coverage. Should you cancel? What are your options? Does your insurance cover you? Field Law's Immigration Team has gathered some of the top issues to consider before setting off.
Waiving Travel Change Fees
There isn't much good news around, but we'll take what we can.
Air Canada and WestJet are waiving fees for flights changes due to coronavirus. Air Canada now allows a one-time change for tickets purchased between March 4 and March 31, 2020 for travel within 12 months. This also covers Aeroplan flight reward bookings and Air Canada Vacations.
WestJet has applied a one-time change fee waiver for new bookings made between March 3 and March 17, 2020 and covers travel until June 24, 2020. Air Transat and Sunwing have also introduced similar policies. While this doesn't cover travel booked prior to those dates, it may provide some reassurance to travelers on the fence about whether book their flights.
Likely due to the media coverage of travelers quarantined on cruise ships, many cruise liners have started to update their cancellation policies, offering options to re-book within a specified period. Cruise liners have also begun to introduce precautionary measures on their cruises such as not allowing passengers to disembark in certain countries and guests and crew members may have their temperatures checked prior to re-boarding.
As this is a rapidly evolving area, we recommend double checking online airline or cruise liner policies for travelers that have already booked or are considering travel.
Will my Travel Insurance Cover Me?
Trip cancellation normally doesn't provide coverage if you want to cancel your trip due to a fear of coronavirus or change of heart. Regular insurance will generally only cover you if you booked your trip prior to the Government of Canada issuing a Travel Advisory against any non-essential travel to that destination. For example, if you booked a vacation to China, and then a week later the Government issued an advisory such as the above, your insurance would likely cover your cancellation. This would not be the case if you booked your flight after the Government advisory was issued. While 'cancel for any reason' insurance exists, you will have to pay an additional premium on top of your 'regular' insurance and it may not cover your entire trip value.
Change in Insurance Terms
Further, two Canadian travel insurers, Manulife and TuGo, have recently classified coronavirus as a "known issue" which means that cancellation coverage no longer applies for new customers, even if there is no travel advisory in place. Travel insurance typically only provides coverage for unforeseen events and unexpected mishaps. Insurers are changing their policies to reflect the fact that coronavirus is now known to most people prior to them making travel decisions. Manulife's policy came in to effect on March 5, 2020 while TuGo's change in policy came into effect on March 4, 2020. In a statement, Manulife confirmed that this restriction does not apply to existing customers who bought their travel insurance policies prior to March 5, 2020.
Travelers should also be careful of layovers and the impact they may have on their insurance coverage and ability to cancel. If your flight is currently routed through Northern Italy for example, you will need to ensure that this does not void your insurance. On the bright side, it may also give you the ability to cancel your flight, even if you are just passing through.
Already on the road?
The situation is fluid. Be mindful that there are broad powers to detain even Canadian citizens in pandemic type situations. While generally speaking a self-quarantine will be enough, Canadian Border Officers can detain uncooperative travelers ("refusing to undergo medical assessment"), or where the traveler appears "capable infecting", travelers at the airport under the Quarantine Act.
We recommend travelers carefully review their travel insurance policy prior to purchase and travel to ensure they have adequate coverage during the coronavirus outbreak. Keep appraised of travel advisories that may impact your insurance coverage. The Government of Canada travel advisory site can be found here.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.