FCO Travel Advisories - when do they apply?
Caveat emptor: the following advice is really just an opinion, not a legal opinion but one which has been formed over many years, some of which have been spent listening to lawyers talking about this stuff. A really well-informed lay person is probably the most I can claim.
One thing which might be helpful for you, as a traveller, to understand is that FCO (UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office) travel advisories are usually issued with a defined end date. During Covid-19 that has been more or less cast out as all advice is, in effect, open-ended.
Given that tour operators' duty to defer or refund trips under the Passenger Travel Regulations (PTRs) is based on FCO advice, this might be considered problematic in allowing any traveller booked at any point in the future to cancel their trip with full refund.
However, there is an important concept buried in the PTRs: FCO advice applies to imminent travel.
So, what's imminent?
This depends on the trip to an extent. For a weekend in Paris, it might not be the same as a month away in Asia. However, what we are told is that, until there is no realistic possibility that a trip can proceed, we are not obliged to enact the terms of the PTRs.
As we move into May 2020 the, realistic possibility of travel might sit 14-21 days away for short-haul but more like a month for long-haul. As we start to emerge, those might shrink slightly.
In any case, the definitions of both imminence and realistic possibility are subjective and have to be established on a case by case basis using the wonderful legal concept of reasonableness.
It is important to understand that there is no fixed date or number of days or timeline established under the PTRs to define imminent. That’s the first question for you to ask of your travel provider: “What do you define as imminent in my case?”.
Once you agree a reasonable definition of imminent then you should find discussions are much easier.
For us at Pura Aventura (I suspect this is in common with most specialist tour operators), we will work far further in the future for deferrals than cancellations/refunds.
For instance, in the current climate, we will happily work with a client due to travel in 10 weeks time who wants to defer their trip. That same client wanting to cancel and claim a refund, we will note their preference and then suggest that we pick up again in approximately 6 weeks’ time (i.e. 4/5 weeks prior to departure) to gauge the situation then.
Please understand, this is not us penalising anyone wishing to cancel, it is us incentivising those who can defer. Put it another way, we observe our legal duty for cancellations and exceed them for deferrals. That’s just good business practice.
One critically important point to make with regards the strict legal observance of the PTRs, is timescale of refunds. The 14 day refund obligations under the PTRs miserably fail any definition of reasonableness, but that’s another article entirely.