Further to the article on the rights of workers stranded abroad (LELR 665), Thompsons now provides some general advice on the rights of consumers who find themselves abroad and unable to get home.

The European Package Travel Directive applies to all bookings made on or after 1 July 2018 and covers different types of contracts that consumers may have entered. These include:

  • Package holidays (the greatest level of protection)
  • Linked travel arrangements and
  • Independent bookings.


The directive provides a right for the consumer to be repatriated and fully refunded for the purchase price of the holiday if their operator goes into liquidation and cannot fulfil the holiday contract. It does not, however, create the same rights in the event that there is a ‘force majeure’ such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Based on the directive, consumers are entitled to additional accommodation for up to three nights if the return journey cannot be completed due to a natural disaster. The trip organiser is also required to provide assistance to travellers in difficulty. This includes providing information on health services and consular assistance, as well as help in arranging alternative travel plans.

These provisions are, however, subject to the qualification that tour operators of a package booking are entitled to cancel the holiday arrangements if they cannot complete them. Usually there would be a penalty imposed on them for late cancellation, but this does not apply if the reason is because of circumstances beyond their control.

Due to the current situation, tour operators appear to be attempting to bring consumers back to the UK. If they are not practically able to do so, they are effectively cancelling the holiday contract. This means that the consumer is entitled to a complete refund within 14 days from the tour operator.  

Most consumers will not want to exercise this right because they will want the tour operator to find suitable, alternative accommodation and re-house them in the intervening period, plus return them to the UK when possible.  

ABTA (the association of British travel agents) are currently in crisis talks with the government. They are requesting a crisis fund to be set up to protect tour operators from the effects of being compelled to refund the full price of the package within 14 days where they cannot recover this money from the suppliers (hoteliers, carriers etc). Without this help, they argue that many tour operators will simply go into liquidation. 

Articles shared by Thompsons relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) are correct at the time of publication. You should check the government's guidelines for the latest information and advice at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.