BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

23 MARCH 2020

The Business Travel News
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The Department for Transport has published a webpage called “What you need to know”.

If you require to travel, or are arriving in the UK, you are strongly advised to click regularly on this story.

This is itself updated from time to time. BTN can easily be added to your mobile phone screen.

The amount of news, advice and comment is overwhelming the whole information supply system and BTN will update on our TWITTER feed. It is recommended that you scroll down our TWITTER entries just in case you have missed something.

COMMENT: From the chief executive of Airlines UK

The current challenges faced by the UK airline sector are truly unprecedented, and stark.  Even just days ago, the idea that airlines across the globe would be cancelling thousands of flights and grounding aircraft on the current scale would have been unthinkable.

Yet, this is the situation we see today, with carriers managing both the devastating impact of the collapse in demand for flying as people stay home, alongside the daily operational challenges of responding to border closures, travel restrictions and new health protocols.

The situation is now truly critical with a sustained and deep drop in demand and future bookings. COVID-19 risks a lasting and irreversible effect on the health of the UK’s aviation industry – the third largest in the world – and the future for UK airlines is indeed now uncertain. 

Carriers are currently in discussion with Government about the challenges they face, and the steps that could be taken to secure the sector’s immediate future.

We have a range of sector-wide asks that could help to alleviate matters, such as offering an extended window from paying Air Passenger Duty (APD), a moratorium on paying ATC charges, help with other airline costs such as those paid to the CAA, an extension of the waiver from the 80:20 “use it or lose it” slot regime through to October, and a stay from EC261 claims on passenger compensation for a period of four months. 

We welcomed the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week that there would be a bespoke package of support for the aviation sector, in order to help see us through this period. Clearly the detail will be important and we will want to see something sooner rather later, but we have been in talks with Government over the past few days and we look forward to further information as soon as possible. 

What is clear is that we will need our aviation sector for the future more than ever, and the UK as an island nation has the most to lose from this current crisis if it should result in long-term, irreversible damage to not just airlines and the affiliated sector, but the trading role of the United Kingdom”. 

Tim Alderslade

https://airlinesuk.org

A letter from Hong Kong

Tony Tyler, the former director-general and chief executive of IATA and previously chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways, recently returned to Hong Kong, where he is presently. He also has a home in the south of France. Here, he updates the position in Hong Kong for Business Travel News.

Six weeks ago Hong Kong was considered one of the world’s most dangerous places, but I’d rather be here than Europe right now.  Thanks to SARS, people here understand what has to be done. 

Most people wear masks – a constant reminder to act responsibly.  Doors, lifts and other surfaces are disinfected hourly.  Social distancing happens: no big parties, no handshakes, hugs or kisses.  Many places check temperature – I reckon I get tested twice daily. Offices operate with divided staffing.  Clubs and gyms ask members not to visit for 14 days after they return to Hong Kong.  Borders are closed to a growing list of countries including Mainland China, with quarantine strictly applied.  Testing, then identification and isolation of contacts is thorough. There is broad social support for all this. 

Result – slow growth in COVID-19 numbers, and only from known infection tracks or imports.  There’s been a spike this week from people rushing back to beat quarantine: we’re all rather annoyed that recent returners from countries with higher infection rates rushed straight down to the bars of Lan Kwai Fong – with predictable consequences. 

At least we’ve been through the panic hoarding stage – a month ago you couldn’t buy toilet paper or rice!  That didn’t last long.

I worry about the airline industry. If it’s going to survive, governments will have to help it.  Supporting specific airlines with cash is distortionary, but it’s already happening.  All governments should immediately cancel the taxes and charges they inflict on airlines.  And waive airport and Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) charges.

For a century the industry has been a force for good.  Cargo is still flying and requires to be.  When this is over the world will need rebuilding.  We have the leaders and a superb workforce. Now, and when it is over, it is up to the politicians to give us every support. Fly onwards!"

Foreign Office advice

If you are thinking of travelling abroad in the near future, and your travel operator is able to offer a service, BTN strongly recommends you visit the official Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for up-to-date advice.

www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

National Rail enquiries

TRAIN INFORMATION

www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations_destinations/coronavirus.aspx

Aberdeen update

What is effectively Europe’s busiest heliport, Aberdeen Airport (ABZ), is being affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but not in the way of similar airports.

A spokesman confirmed that helicopter operators are continuing to service North Sea production:  “It’s quite clear this is an extremely challenging time for the entire industry, however, we will ensure Aberdeen Airport remains open throughout."

It is the hub of the offshore oil industry and any closure of the airport would clearly have a bad effect for the whole nation.  It would isolate rig workers and eliminate crew changes.  Aberdeen is a major base for medical transfers from the northern isles, where Aberdeen Royal Infirmary takes emergency cases that cannot be dealt with locally.  Local hotels remain open.

The four main helicopter operators at Aberdeen are Bristows, CHC (Canadian), Babcock International and NHV (Belgium).

With scheduled operations British Airways, Eastern, easyJet, KLM and Loganair are offering much reduced services.  Within the airport Boots, WH Smith and World Duty Free are open, but the catering outlets are closed.

LNER has cut back on its schedule to London with revised stops, First Class lounges closed and no catering.

www.aberdeenairport.com

Air Antwerp suspends timetable

Codeshare flights with KLM operated by Air Antwerp (WP) are another casualty of COVID-19 with Air Antwerp's service from Antwerp to London City Airport now suspended.

Last Tuesday, the Belgium National Security Council announced a strict lockdown and therefore the airline says it had no choice but to take this step. However, until Friday the airline continues operating its regular schedule, allowing passengers to return home.

Customers who booked directly with WP can contact the carrier’s customer service department where they can change or cancel their reservation free.

If they did not make the booking directly, they will have to contact their provider and this includes KLM. Air Antwerp wants to make customers aware they cannot make booking change requests via social media.

www.airantwerp.com

Air New Zealand departs London

First established back in 1982, Air New Zealand (NZ) flew its final Heathrow – Los Angeles – Auckland service last Saturday (21 March). 

Readers may recall that at one time the airline also offered an alternative routing via Hong Kong.

The airline made the decision to bring forward the closure of its London cabin crew base of 130 flight attendants due to the impact of COVID-19 and travel restrictions imposed by global governments.  The airline says the route will return on 30 June but this seems unlikely with its final withdrawal due in October 2020.

Earlier in the week NZ announced it is reviewing its cost base in response to COVID-19 and is working with unions on a range of measures to reduce its labour bill by 30%.  In recent times the airline has faced considerable competition from Middle East carriers able to offer a different cabin style from NZ but, more importantly, a customs free transit.  The United States imposed an (illegal) passport inspection in recent years, claimed due to security reasons.  The US has not missed out with the Boeing Dreamliners previously used on the route transferred to a New York service. (See BTN 28 October 2019)

New Zealand it seems is lacking interest in the UK market and has not participated in WTM in recent years.

www.airnewzealand.co.uk

Airports A complete update

As a service to our readers, listed here are the websites of the leading UK and Irish airports.

Please pass on. A BTN mention would be apprecaited.

This from Karen Dee, chief executive, Airport Operators Association (AOA).

“The chancellor’s measures to support employers through the COVID-19 pandemic are very welcome, particularly for airport staff who are concerned about their jobs.

“Airports are at the forefront of the impacts of COVID-19, as domestic and international air travel has all but come to a halt. Airports are expecting up to 95% fewer passengers than normal next week, continuing the steep decline of the past few days and weeks.” 

www.aoa.org.uk

Aberdeen   ABZ     www.aberdeenairport.com Belfast City   BHD  www.belfastcityairport.com Belfast International BFS     www.belfastairport.com Birmingham   BHX      www.birminghamairport.co.uk Bournemouth BOH www.bournemouthairport.com Bristol BRS     www.bristolairport.co.uk Cardiff   CWL      www.cardiff-airport.com East Midlands EMA     www.eastmidlandsairport.com Edinburgh   EDI      www.edinburghairport.com Exeter   EXT     www.exeter-airport.co.uk Gatwick   LGW     www.gatwickairport.com Glasgow   GLA     www.glasgowairport.com Guernsey   GCI     www.airport.gg
Humberside   HUY     www.humbersideairport.com Heathrow   LHR     www.heathrow.com Inverness   INV     www.invernessairport.co.uk Jersey   JER     www.jerseyairport.org Leeds Bradford  LBA     www.leedsbradfordairport.co.uk Liverpool   LPL     www.liverpoolairport.com London City LCY     www.londoncityairport.com Luton   LTN     www.london-luton.co.uk Newquay   NQY     www.cornwallairportnewquay.com Newcastle   NEW     www.newcastleairport.com Norwich   NWI     www.norwichairport.co.uk Manchester   MAN     www.manchesterairport.co.uk Southend   SEN     https://southendairport.com Southampton   SOU     www.southamptonairport.com Stansted   STN     www.stanstedairport.com Teesside   MME     www.teessideinternational.com


For Highlands and Islands see
www.hial.co.uk


Ireland

Cork   ORK     www.corkairport.com Dublin   DUB     www.dublinairport.com Shannon   SNN     www.shannonairport.ie

American Airlines operates cargo flights

American Airlines (AA) announced this week that it will be utilising grounded aircraft to move cargo between the United States and Europe.

Air cargo has always played a key role in times of crisis to keep the world’s infrastructure intact and in these unprecedented times AA is doing its bit with the battle against COVID-19. This is important now more than ever, as the world relies more on e-commerce to support basic needs during quarantine and social distancing. The airlines' role is deemed a critical infrastructure industry by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Its first cargo-only flight was from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA), on Friday.  It used a Boeing 777-300 which had 14 cargo positions for large pallets and can carry more than 100,000lb (approx 45,000kg).  It will operate two round trips over the course of four days which are expected to be booked to capacity and will transport medical supplies, mail for active US military, telecommunications equipment and electronics that will support people working from home and e-commerce packages. 

The flights provide much needed income for the airline, allowing them to operate in this challenging environment.

Domestically, American carry cargo on all of its planes. This week the airline also transported its first shipment of COVID-19 test kits from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to Chicago O’Hare Airport.

www.aa.com

www.cdc.gov


Bizjet fraternity rallies

The last two to three weeks have seen a surge of interest in the private jet charter market Alison Chambers reports.

There are currently no major disruptions at UK airports, except flights to Italy, with only a few local airports open for private jet companies to use.  

The problem is more of immigration, when borders close, not airport specific. 

“There was concern when the prime minister made an announcement about London going into lockdown.  We thought everything would close inside the M25, but London City and Northolt airports are open.  Most of our charter flights are at the bigger airports typically Luton and Farnborough,” says Garreth Horrocks, European safety officer at PrivateFly.   “A range of jets are being booked, including mid-range Embraer Legacy; Citation Bravo and Excel, plus longer-range Challenger.  Most flights are for repatriation, taking families to their homes in other countries where they are staying put. 

“The net is closing as countries close borders and I have become Sherlock Holmes, seeking information for clients (using ICAO and International SOS information) to look at changes at specific destinations.  This frees up time for the sales team and we talk twice a day on Zoom, sharing what borders are closing and when.  We typically have 24 hours’ notice to advise clients on new restrictions and sanctions accordingly.   Clients are coming to us because airlines have cancelled, and we are seeing a mix of repeat clients and new users.  Private jet operators are very pro-active disinfecting their aircraft, using Universal Protection Kits (UPK).  Some have infrared thermometers on board, mainly for crew.

“There has certainly been a spotlight on the bizjet world, which should serve us well when we are out of this crisis,” Garreth agrees.

Alison Chambers will highlight the recent annual conference of BBGA, including how companies are rallying against Coronavirus in next week's ON TOUR.

www.emeraldmedia.co.uk

www.privatefly.com

Boeing and SITA

SITA, the airline information technology company, is accelerating innovation in air traffic control (ATC) communications as part of Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator programme, alongside key industry partners including NASA and long-standing airline customer, Etihad.

The programme tests pioneering and promising technologies that aim to solve air transport industry challenges for airlines and passengers, as well as enhancing sustainability. The most recent programme saw the implementation of such technologies onboard a Boeing 777 and tests a total of 50 different projects.

The implementation comes as part of SITA’s work to evolve a multilink aircraft communications ecosystem, as a world leader in Internet Protocol Suites.

Central to this approach is SITA’s ability to integrate multiple networks, both proprietary and third-party, enabling seamless fallback and a vital system that inspires industry-wide confidence.

Mike Sinnett, vice president of Product Strategy and Future Airplane Development at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said: “It’s exciting to welcome SITA onboard our debut 777 ecoDemonstrator to address some of the challenges facing airline operations and air traffic control. This is a key area in assessing the technologies that will make our skies safer and more efficient, for Boeing, and the wider industry.”

www.boeing.com/principles/environment/ecodemonstrator

www.sitaonair.aero

British Airways suspends London City Airport (and more!)

BA subsidiary Cityflyer has announced it is suspending all services from London City Airport. Passengers have been offered flights from Heathrow and Gatwick, or can claim a refund. 

The BTN advice is to take the money. With the Embraer fleet grounded, crew will be laid off, although management could be encouraged to swap the Brazilian aircraft with Airbus aircraft for routes still operating with low passenger loads.

British Airways will park the entire A380, Boeing 777 and Boeing 747 fleets with 75% of the long-haul schedules cancelled, leaving only the newer Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 available. At Heathrow, all Terminal 3 flights have moved to Terminal 5. 

IAG sister company Iberia is not doing any better as it seeks to lay-off up to 90% of staff with no pay for three months. Flight crew as well as ground handling, line maintenance and cargo staff will be hit. The only area to escape relatively lightly by comparison is engine maintenance with a 60% cut, as it has external customers as well as Iberia.

The airline has confirmed it will not ground its fleet entirely, with some short-, medium- and long-haul flights running. These would be used primarily to take non-residents home and to bring back Spanish residents abroad.

www.ba.com

www.iberia.com

Cruise passengers rescued

Last Wednesday (18 March) 239 Cruise and Maritime (CMV) passengers were transferred at sea in a unique operation to get them home safely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

CMV’s cruise-liner Columbus was on a four-month Round the World cruise from London Tilbury carrying 1,020 passengers before her voyage was curtailed in Semarang (Indonesia).  Another CMV ship, Vasco da Gama, was travelling between Fremantle (Australia) and Singapore via the Suez Canal to London Tilbury carrying 839 passengers. The vast majority of passengers were either UK or Australian nationals.

The previous Friday (13 March) CMV announced that all cruise operations were to be suspended and cruise ships should return to their home ports.  However, despite pleas to the authorities, the Port of Phuket as well as other South East Asian ports would not open to cruise ships, which rendered air repatriation impossible.

Unchartered times.  The two ships made a rendezvous 12nmi off the coast of Phuket to transfer the passengers.  All clients switching ships were screened and temperatures checked by the ships’ medical teams prior to switching and no cases of coronavirus were found to be onboard either ship.  The Columbus is expected back in London on 13 April and Vasco da Gama due in Fremantle on 27 March.

Fred Olsen cruise line had not dissimilar problems with Braemar in the Caribbean, their clients successfully disembarked in Cuba and flown home.

www.cruiseandmaritime.com

www.fredolsencruises.com


Delay for Walsh

Willie Walsh, who had been due to leave his post as chief executive at International Airlines Group (IAG), is to stay for an unspecified period as the company continues to battle the coronavirus crisis.

IAG said last week: “In light of the exceptional circumstances facing the aviation industry due to COVID-19, and in particular the developing situation in Spain, it has been decided that Luis Gallego will continue in his role as Iberia chief executive for the next few months to lead the response in Spain.

“In the meantime, Willie Walsh … will continue to act as group chief executive. Javier Sanchez will remain in place as Vueling chief executive.

IAG said it was cutting capacity by at least 75% in April and May in face of the pandemic.  The group, which includes British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, is also taking “drastic actions” to cut operating expenses and improve cash flow, it added.

These include grounding surplus aircraft, reducing and deferring capital spending, cutting non-essential and non-cyber related IT spend, freezing recruitment and implementing voluntary leave options and reducing working hours.

Walsh said there had been “a substantial decline” in bookings across the group’s airlines and global network over the past few weeks and demand was expected to remain weak until well into the summer.

However, he added, IAG was resilient with a strong balance sheet and a “strong liquidity” position, with cash, cash equivalents and interest-bearing deposits of €7.35bn as at 12 March.

www.iairgroup.com

EasyJet grounded

Following the country lockdowns, travel restrictions and changes to travel advice across its network, easyJet has announced the decision to ground the majority of its fleet of aircraft from Tuesday 24 March onwards.

The airline says it will continue to operate rescue flights as required to repatriate customers and anticipate most of these will be completed by today (23 March).

EasyJet says it anticipates operating a minimal schedule of essential services on some routes.  This will be a maximum of 10% of our usual capacity during this time of year and mainly routes to, from and within the UK.  It will continue to review the flight schedule on a weekly basis to ensure that it matches current demand.

“With recent guidance, we recognise many customers with existing reservations do not intend to travel, and so we would encourage them to change their tickets for free now, as this will allow us to best match our remaining flying to the demand. EasyJet continues to waive all change fees for customers who want to move their flight to a later date and they can now change up until 28 February 2021. Customers will be contacted directly if their flight is cancelled and will be provided with their options.”

www.easyjet.com/en/policy/coronavirus-rescue-flights

Farnborough cancelled

The Farnborough International board of directors has announced the cancellation of the Farnborough International Airshow 2020 which was due to take place from 20-24 July.

www.farnboroughairshow.com

Loganair flight reductions

With the aviation industry in meltdown due to COVIS-19, it is not only international airlines that are affected, but also those serving primarily domestic routes – including Scotland’s Loganair, which on Wednesday announced a dramatic reduction in its services.

Chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: "The coronavirus situation has worsened materially in the past four days, and we have now seen forward bookings fall by around 75% versus their usual levels."

The airline is implementing an emergency timetable of 95 scheduled flights each weekday – down from 214, a cut of 55%.

Cancelled until 31 May are all international services to/from Norway, Germany, Denmark and Republic of Ireland. On the domestic front, the same applies to Edinburgh – Norwich and Glasgow – Exeter.  Wick – Edinburgh has been permanently withdrawn.

Hinkles revealed he has asked staff to consider a range of measures aimed at protecting employment, including reducing working hours by 20% and accepting a 20% reduction in salary as a result, or taking a period of unpaid leave.

It is expected a quarter of Loganair’s fleet of 40 aircraft will be put into temporary storage as a result of the reductions.

www.loganair.co.uk

Meggitt and ventilators

Aerospace industry FSO 100-listed major component supplier Meggitt has answered an NHS call for ventilator production assistance. 

It is heading up a consortium of aerospace suppliers answering the call from the NHS for industry assistance in ventilator production.

The group includes GKN, Airbus, Thales and Renishaw. It is one of three working together to develop medical ventilator prototypes in a bid to solve the shortage in the NHS. The other two consortia are headed up by automotive sector companies Nissan and McLaren.

The aerospace suppliers will be working to develop and produce 20,000 new machines to treat coronavirus patients in as little as two weeks.

Meggitt’s experience in manufacturing oxygen systems for aircrew was the reason it was selected to head the aerospace consortium. However, a company source admits it will have to bring in external experts to manage the medical certification process.

Meggitt mainly makes components for military and civil aircraft, but does have some medical technology experience.

www.meggitt.com/our-markets/aerospace

Scillies Penzance Helicopter launch

After eight years, the UK’s only scheduled helicopter service, between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, started again last week.

It is perhaps not the perfect timing, but opportune. Business Travel News contributor Geoff Moore was among the first passengers on the service, having flown on the last flight operated by British International Helicopters in October 2012.

Taking from 15–17min, return flights are planned for the summer peak, operated under the umbrella of long-established Sloane Helicopters, based in Sywell, Northamptonshire. Initially, a pair of six-passenger AW109s will be used but are expected to be replaced by a 15-passenger Leonardo AW139 currently trapped in China.

The new Penzance Heliport received European funding of around £1.8m and is near the location of the original landing ground. The owner of Tresco island, Robert Dorrien-Smith, has been one of the key investors in the project. This famous garden island also has a helicopter facility.

Penzance Heliport general manager Justin Wood said: “The location of the heliport is convenient for passengers travelling either by car or train. An electric shuttle bus brings them directly from the station in around 5min and with plenty of onsite parking and a number of electric charging bays for different vehicle types owners can even charge while away”.

Passengers are allowed up to 20kg of luggage using soft bags.

https://penzancehelicopters.co.uk

www.thetraveltrunk.net By Geoff Moore.

Simon Calder on Thomas Cook

Somehow finding the time to investigate what is a true scandal, The Independent’s travel guru Simon Calder has come up with some sensational facts concerning the repatriation of some 77,000 passengers who were not ATOL protected.

Calder has crunched the numbers in last week’s National Audit Office (NAO) report on the failure (buried among even more disturbing news) and discovered 77,000 passengers without ATOL cover were flown home free of charge.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic made a great play of the effort put in by the staff (many now stood down) but the airline, and other carriers, seem to have been richly rewarded for their work.

According to Calder's analysis. the cost to the taxpayer was £1,078 per passenger, and rising. No mention whether the Treasury is to charge these travellers as is sometimes the case.

The Independent (and BTN) strongly advises paying for travel on a credit card as a form of insurance. It could be the homecoming cost may have been covered. Will this be reimbursed eventually to the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice

West Atlantic and Swift Air stay flying

The UK’s and Europe’s largest specialised cargo airline group continues to fly and is being kept very busy.  Operationally it is in a crisis mood.

CEO Lars Jordahn spoke exclusively to BTN

He is extremely concerned on the airline’s ability to stay operational.  He says that West Atlantic may have to recruit pilots in order to remain flying and praised IATA in its initiative in seeking flexibility regarding the multitude of licence requirements to keep airlines operational.

“Airports must remain open,” he said.

“We will continue to operate throughout the crisis to maintain critical supply chain for our customers and society for as long as we can – our employees being pilots, engineer, mechanics and office workers all committed to their duties”.

He could not praise his own staff enough. “I am grateful and proud of the effort from all our people – despite the risk of own health.”

“We need to protect the crews and ground support staff allowing us to move our crews to and from the airports with fast track and isolated access.  We need the airport hotel facilities to stay open otherwise our crews and maintenance people cannot rest.”

He said priority was required for COVID-19 medical checks in order for airline staff to avoid weeks of self-isolation with air crews arriving back from critical zones.  As most parts of Europe become classified as COVID-19 zones hotels must allow our crews to rest even if they arrive from COVID-19 zones.

He pointed out having employees in the transportation industry classified as critical was a very positive development allowing them to work knowing their children would still be taken care of whilst they are on duty.

Pilot recruitment could become critical due to duty hours being exceeded and illness problems.  As a cargo airline, regulators will have to be flexible in allowing us to take on aircrew stood down from other airlines, perhaps as first officers.  Passenger airlines generally operate more advanced versions of the type of aircraft we fly.

Created in 1994 as part of the Air Atlantique Group it merged in 2008 with Sweden’s West Air Sweden to create a new airline called West Atlantic. In 2019 a majority shareholding was acquired by Swift Air (LUSAT) a Spanish cargo airline. Its British operation was formerly at Coventry Airport but is now based at East Midlands Airport where it has a large maintenance hangar.  It is a member of Airlines UK.

Nightly it operates 100 aircraft to service the express industry, national postal service, e-commerce and the time critical supply chain. In the UK it supplies an extensive air-network for Royal Mail.

West Atlantic UK has its UK offices in Coventry and its operational centre and maintenance facility at East Midlands Airport. The West Atlantic Group is based in Gothenburg (Sweden) and Swift Air in Madrid (Spain).

The current West Atlantic and Swift Air fleet consists of 3 Fairchild Metroliner, 10 Embraer 120, 12 BAe ATP-F, 30 ATR 42/72, 2 Bombardier CRJ200PF, 32 B737-300, 400 and 800, 7 B757 and 3 Boeing 767F.

https://westatlantic.eu

www.swiftair.com

ON TOUR: Travel cover unravels

Exposure to loss from cancelled flights and pre-booked hotels is adding to the woes of coronavirus. This insurance report was written by John Burke, who is a financial journalist as well as a travel writer.

The still developing pandemic and counter-measures are throwing the worldwide (re)insurance industry into turmoil, especially the sectors that provide travel cover.  At the time of writing, the attitude to existing and future policies, including annual ones, is varying from company to company and from day to day, such as adding conditions or invoking smallprint. There may also be differences regarding the insurance for business travel as such.

At least some subsidiaries of the French group AXA will not cover cancellation due to coronavirus, and Allianz will not cover anything related, although the Munich-based multinational does seem to have been admitting certain claims for a limited period.

Among British insurers, Aviva will not refund on disrupted holidays, while Admiral and Churchill have stopped writing new cover, and so has Direct Line, which, with 4m holders of travel policies (often packaged by NatWest and Nationwide), has already received coronavirus claims totalling £1m.

And here is a typical caveat from Insureandgo: “We have classed coronavirus as a ‘Known Event’ in line with the policy’s terms and conditions. For an element of a trip booked before 13 March, any subsequent claim will be considered in line with those. 

"For any element of travel after that date, we will not cover any claims caused by, or relating to corona, or any fear or threat concerning the virus.”

Although the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has issued a six-point pledge to customers, it warns that the Foreign Office advice of 17 March against non-essential travel currently provides underwriters with a wide and firm exclusion, although it also allows customers to claim for cancellation or disruption as of now. Many travel policies are eligible for extension, and claims should be valid for being stranded abroad, including quarantine.

Some out-of-pocket expenses other than food may be accepted, including for alternative repatriation, but ATOL conditions do not apply. Also separate is Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance that has become popular since the demise of Thomas Cook. As regards travel agencies, the ABI concludes: “Hardly any business has chosen to buy any form of cover that includes local closure due to an infectious disease.”

It is obvious common sense to heed governmental advice regarding destinations and healthcare, and then consult your insurer about the latest conditions, especially what counts as essential travel and banned entry.  Travellers on urgent business ought to be protected by their employers' duty of care, but make sure the company is fully compliant with the law – a point made at the Business Travel Show.

Although organisations or individuals are faced with the exclusion of coronavirus from a normal policy, cover might be possible through the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, which has close ties with Lloyd’s of London. This specialised market has long accepted almost suicidal risks such as war, kidnap, ransom and terrorism.

On the other hand, Hiscox and other syndicates rushed to exclude coronavirus as the reason for cancelling events, not least a long list in Australia, where Qantas has halted all international flights anyway. Cover-More in Sydney says Australians and New Zealanders catching coronavirus abroad may still be covered by its policies, but the insurer has stopped allowing a higher premium for Cancel For Any Reason.

This was also an optional extra among transatlantic insurers, who began excluding coronavirus from standard policies as of mid-January when they classified it as ‘a foreseen event’. Yet some American travellers are still getting both normal and urgent medical benefits on policies as well as cover for evacuation due to the illness. 

Automatic cover has long been available on some cards of American Express, which now says: “While we assess claims on a case-by-case basis, Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance provides reimbursement of non-refundable travel expenses, purchased with your eligible card, of up to $10,000 per trip. We are also working with our airline and hotel partners to implement any fee waivers or support they may be offering to affected travellers.”

There is, however, one class of underwriters in the USA who will not miss new premium income despite the grounding of so many aircraft. Remember those vending machines near the departure gates half a century ago when a handful of quarters would buy up to $65,000 worth of instant assurance against the risk of an air-crash on a scheduled flight? They are long gone from Stateside airports, but still stand in such countries as Japan and Taiwan.”

AND FINALLY: It had to happen

The Mousetrap finally closed!

Mama Mia too!