What happens when a health incident, like the Coronavirus, impacts your travel plans?

With ongoing media coverage of the Coronavirus, the Government of Canada’s travel advisory for China and the province of Hubei, and some airlines suspending or reducing flights to and from China, consumers with existing bookings to China may wonder what options they have for their travel plans.

In Ontario, all travel agencies, websites and tour operators are regulated by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO). That means they must follow laws that promote consumer protection and must disclose information that is relevant to travellers.

What if I have an upcoming flight booked to or from China?

As the Coronavirus situation is constantly evolving, your best bet is to speak to your travel agent, who will have the latest information from airlines and other travel suppliers. Some airlines have suspended flights to and from China, while others are operating on a reduced schedule.

Additionally, some airlines are offering existing customers the ability to rebook at no additional cost.

If you purchased your airfare through a TICO-registered travel agency or website, and the time of your scheduled flight is advanced or delayed by more than 24 hours, you may be entitled to a full refund or comparable alternate service. This also applies to other forms of transportation, such as train or bus tickets, cruises, etc.

However, this rule does not apply if the delay or advancement is due to mechanical problems with a vehicle, ship or aircraft, safety considerations, weather conditions, a strike or lock-out or a force majeure (such as an unforeseen circumstance).

The impact of the Coronavirus may be seen as a safety or force majeure event, depending on the specific circumstances.

What if I have an imminent tour within China?

If you booked your tour with a TICO-registered travel agency or website, your travel agent is required, by law, to alert you of any changes to your travel plans that would have affected your decision to buy the tour in the first place.

Much like the airlines, some tour operators have opted to cancel or suspend certain tours or offered customers the option to rebook at no additional cost. Please keep in mind that these are goodwill gestures, as travel suppliers are not obligated to offer these options.

What if I want to cancel my travel plans to China?

When you book travel, your invoice is your contract between you and the travel company. The invoice must include all the terms and conditions of your travel, such as any potential penalties for cancelling or changing your booking.

Under Ontario law, there is no requirement for a travel company to refund or offer alternative arrangements to customers if a government travel advisory is in effect. However, some travel companies may choose to offer goodwill gestures to clients under these circumstances.

Speaking with your TICO-registered travel agency is your best bet for understanding your options, especially in a fluid environment where suppliers may be announcing new measures daily.

If you believe your travel plans are impacted by the recent developments, consider proactively contacting your travel agent if you haven’t heard from them yet, as they may be contacting customers in order of departure.

Additional resources

When you book your travel with a TICO-registered travel agency or website, know that you’re not alone. Navigating a worldwide health concern, with suppliers that can be located internationally, can be complicated, but your travel agent is well-equipped to answer your questions and provide the advice you need to understand your options.

To verify if a travel agency, website or tour operator is TICO registered, check our online directory. For more travel tips and information, visit TICO’s Smart Traveller Guide.