Travel bans on UK flights, ferries and trains: the essential questions

Countries across Europe and the world are imposing or considering short-term bans on travel links

Countries across Europe and the world are imposing or considering short-term bans on travel links with the UK. These are the key questions and answers.



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What is happening?

The infectious mutation of the Covid-19 virus which appears to be raging in London and parts of southeast England is causing serious concern around the world.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, described it as “out of control,” though it is not thought to cause a more severe illness.

Foreign countries are understandably concerned about the risk that the mutant coronavirus strain could take hold dangerously on their territory. As a result, many European nations have called a halt to transport links with the UK.

They are imposing restrictions on travellers from the UK, and in some cases those who have spent time in the UK in the previous two weeks.

Over the next two days the European Union will work on procedures to allow travel to re-start, probably with stringent testing requirements in place.

Where are the worst problems?

France has suspended all traffic from the UK until 11.59pm on Tuesday 22 December. 

The biggest issue is across the Channel to France. The ferry terminal at the Port of Dover is closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to French border restrictions.

The last departure of Eurotunnel shuttles from Folkestone to Calais was at 9.34pm.  Access to the terminal is now prohibited.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, tweeted: “Following the French government’s announcement it will not accept any passengers arriving from the UK for the next 48hrs, we’re asking the public & particularly hauliers not to travel to Kent ports or other routes to France.

“We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area.”

Which other nations?

The first restriction – a two-week flight ban – was introduced by the Netherlands ministry of health in the early hours of Sunday morning. Dozens of flights were cancelled on Sunday, with many others are grounded up to 1 January 2021.

Belgium has imposed a 24-hour ban from 0.01am on Monday 21 December, with the Foreign Office saying: “Subject to scientific consultations, the closure could be extended for a longer period.”

Separately, Belgium is introducing a demand for evidence of a negative Covid-19 test, taken no more than 48 hours prior to arrival, in order to enter the country. This will take effect on Christmas Day.

Next was the Austrian government, announcing that, effective from 0.01am on Tuesday 22 December, a ban will be imposed on flights from the UK.

Italy has declared flight ban to 6 January 2021, and anyone already in Italy who has been in the UK since 6 December must report to their local health authorities and take a Covid-19 test. 

All arrivals to Italy between now and 6 January 2021– from anywhere – must self-isolate for 14 days.

Switzerland announced a flight ban late on Sunday night. It is not clear when it will begin. The Foreign Office says that anyone arriving after noon local time (11am GMT) on Monday from the UK, regardless of nationality, will be required to self-isolate for 10 days.

What about Ireland?

A ban on passengers arriving on flights and ferries from Great Britain has been imposed at 0.01am on Monday 21 December. The prohibition is initially for 48 hours but may be extended. Ferries will continue to sail but will carry only freight.

The prohibition is in place for Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 December and the measures will be reviewed by the Irish cabinet on Tuesday.

This is extremely unusual: Ireland and the UK are in a Common Travel Area and have been working together very closely. In addition, a very large number of Irish people living in Great Britain were planning to return to the Republic for Christmas.T

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The government in Dublin says arrangements are being put in place to allow Irish residents on short trips to the UK to return in the coming days, as well as international travellers to Ireland who are transiting through the UK.

Conversely Aer Lingus will be operating flights to the UK (flying back empty) according to its normal schedule.

Citizens in distress can call the Irish Embassy in London 020 7235 2171 or email [email protected]

Arrivals from Northern Ireland are not expected to be affected.

Where else?

Spain is the main exception: it appears to be allowing arrivals from the UK. Under an existing rule, all passengers must arrive with a negative Covid test.

Portugal says only its citizens returning home, and foreigners who are resident there, will be allowed to fly in from the UK – and they must take a Covid-19 test.

Germany has banned all flights up to 11pm on 31 December, coincidentally the time the Brexit transition phase ends.

Meanwhile central and eastern European countries are taking action.

Greece is still allowing arrivals from the UK, but the health ministry said they must quarantine for a week rather than the three days required for other travellers.

The Czech government initially introduced mandatory quarantine for those who have travelled from the UK, or spent more than 24 hours in the UK during the past 14 days. It has now introduced a flight ban from Monday 21 December.

Romania has banned all flights from the UK for two weeks.

Bulgaria is reported to have imposed a ban on links from the UK until 31 January 2021, but this – like all other initial durations – is subject to change.

Many other countries are considering imposing bans.

Anywhere long-haul?

Kuwait was the first non-European nation to ban any travellers who have been in the UK during the preceding two weeks. This ban will affect relatively few people; Kuwait is not a significant tourist destination, and imposes 14 days of quarantine on all arrivals.

Were the UAE to follow suit, many more people would be affected.

What about travel from abroad to the UK?

The UK has no specific restrictions on any of these  countries apart from the usual quarantine requirements. So in theory British citizens returning home should be able to travel without problems. But if flights are cancelled in one direction, they tend to be cancelled in the other, too.

It may be that in some cases “directional” flights continue – for example, flying empty from the UK to a country, then bringing people back. Aer Lingus has confirmed it will be doing so.

In addition, Eurostar is running Paris to London train services on 21 and 22 December, but not in the reverse direction.

I am due to travel to one of the countries. What are my rights?

When a flight is cancelled you will be due a full cash refund within a week. For package holidays, you should get all your money back within two weeks.

British Airways has updated its passenger information, saying: “Due to the current coronavirus pandemic and changing global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule.

“If your flight is cancelled, we will contact you but please check the status of your flight before travelling to the airport.”

Ryanair is telling passengers booked to travel up to and including Christmas Eve: “For any flights to/from the UK  in the coming days which are banned by EU governments’ regulation, all affected customers will receive an email notification and they will be offered practical alternatives including free moves (no change fee applies) or refunds if they so wish.”

Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, has not yet updated its customer information.

I have family members trying to return to the UK from Europe. What can they do?

While there is a general presumption against international travel to the UK, many British citizens who are working abroad are expecting to return in the next few days.

Travellers must either wait for the measures to be suspended or look at alternative routings. However, this may be difficult with new restrictions taking effect at very short notice. 

Complex journeys will also increase risk to the individual and those they encounter along the way.

For those who choose to stay where they are, European air passengers’ rights rules mean that the airline is obliged to find and pay for accommodation until it can get travellers where they need to be.

I have a long-haul flight via a European hub which is not operating. What can I do?

For people booked on Air France via Paris, KLM via Amsterdam or Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Munich, European air passengers’ rights rules come to your rescue.

If one part of the journey is cancelled, the carrier is still obliged to find an alternative way for you to get home – for example nonstop on British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, or via a Gulf hub (assuming they do not impose flight bans too.)