If you are planning an international holiday to celebrate the new year, then here is a cautionary note: with the latest travel restrictions, you might not just miss out on the travel but the refund too. As the discovery of a new Covid variant has forced governments around the world back in a huddle, Vibes of India got in touch with at least four travellers who made plans last year which had to be cancelled due to the Delta variant that wreaked havoc across the world. None of them has even got their refunds yet.
And now, major travel destinations are blocking flights from multiple countries following the discovery of the Omicron variant.
What is the variant? How seriously is the West taking it? For example, New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a state of emergency due to a spike in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The order will be effective from December 3 and will be reassessed based on the latest data on January 15.
Gujaratis and Punjabis are avid international travellers and most of those who have made international travel plans are in a state of quandary.
Just when everyone thought that the worst of the pandemic was in the rearview mirror and they could finally plan some long-overdue getaways abroad, the news comes as a harsh blow and raises multiple questions. The first question is about refunds. Home chef Neha Agarwal waited for her refund for over four months. She booked the tickets for her family through an agent and due to raging Covid cases when she was compelled to cancel her trip to Dubai, she received a credit note instead of a refund of Rs 2,40,000.
“Even thinking about the whole episode exhausts me. Instead of a cashback, I received a credit note that I can use to encash while travelling in the next six months. Due to increasing Covid cases, it was obvious that we won’t be able to travel but the travel company was just not in the mood to understand. Ultimately, I asked my colleagues to deal with the issue. After four months of hassle, we got a refund but even that was with several deductions. I vowed not to travel for a while,” added Neha.
Travel agents are opting for ‘travel credit’ instead of a complete refund. Aarohi Shah from The Voyageur explains: “Since Covid, it has become difficult to predict the situation or the government laws. We may suffer unbearable loss if we start giving a complete refund. The only midway is to provide travel credit for six months or even 12. If the client wants to travel in the future s/he can easily encash it. Due to the latest Covid strain, we don’t expect any more bookings. The new variant has influenced the sentiments or the mood of the people. They are bound to be cautious.”
In another incident, an aged couple Nainaben Patel, 87 and her 92-year old husband who planned a trip to Chicago are left waiting for a refund for over nine months. The residents of Ranip in Ahmedabad are due Rs 87,000 in refunds.
Only 12-13 per cent of those who cancelled travel bookings due to the second COVID wave could get timely refunds. Piyush Lal who got the refund for his travel after 12 long months said “I had to do follow-ups for eight months and only after that, I got a refund from Spicejet. We planned to travel with friends but didn’t foresee the Covid cases increasing. The current policies of the airlines, railways or hotels are not in consumer interest and we want the government to come up with a travel booking refund policy till the time the COVID pandemic is on.”
Countries that have imposed travel restrictions right now include Israel, Japan, Australia, Canada, Italy, Indonesia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, France, Germany, Maldives, Malta, Spain, Singapore and others.
Anshul Shah, the owner of All Four Season Travels, shared about the constant state of ‘confusion’ that people in the travel industry are facing. “Due to the new Covid variant there is a lot of confusion. Mumbai airport is a hub of connecting flights and announcing a 14-day quarantine at a hotel will lead to major cancellations. Clients wouldn’t want to get into the hassle. I suspect there will be 100% cancellations due to this decision. The refund will be another issue.”
Mahendra Vakharia, owner of Pathfinders Holidays, is into international travel bookings. He has seen at least a 50% loss of business due to the new travel restrictions. “Everything was going back to track till Diwali but the new variant has again brought despair to the industry. Our major bookings for Europe, especially for holidays and honeymoons, are shelved. We have gone through major losses since Covid happened and the financial burden – on us and the clients – is bound to increase.”
Amidst this, the government of India who had announced the resumption of international flights from December 15, has decided to have a relook at the decision and put the plan on hold. The new development comes in the wake of the Covid scare in the form of the latest variant named Omicron, identified in South Africa.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued a circular which reads ” in view of evolving global scenario with the emergence of new variants of concern, the situation is being watched closely in consultation with all stakeholders and an appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course “
The full schedule of international flights has not been operated in India since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic nearly 20 months ago, except for a few special flights allowed to select locations under specific air bubble arrangements.