COVID-19: Travel firm warns on Portugal holidays due to EU’s non-essential travel ban

The world’s largest travel firm has warned it may be forced to cancel holiday flights to Portugal, just as the UK allows them again, because of a continuing EU ban on non-essential travel from countries outside the bloc.

TUI, which told Sky News earlier this week that people were giving up on booking a break abroad because of a lack of clarity on the rules, said holidays could not happen unless “borders are open”.

Portugal is on the UK government’s so-called ‘green list‘, which allows travel to certain nations with the need for COVID-19 testing but not quarantine, from Monday.

While the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice has been updated to allow non-essential travel to the country, Portugal faces a trickier decision.

While its government wants to take UK tourists, it is currently prevented from doing so because of the EU rule.

According to The Times earlier this week, Lisbon is reluctant to make a unilateral move to allow non-resident Britons in due to the fact it currently holds the bloc’s rotating presidency.

The newspaper quoted a senior Portuguese official as saying that thousands of British visitors would have to be “turned away” at the airport unless the rule was relaxed in time.

The issue is not expected to threaten further chaos for fans ahead of the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City later this month – switched from Turkey to Porto in Portugal – because the ban is tipped to be lifted well in advance.

The timing, though, remains unclear and the Daily Mail reported that it would be the middle of next week at the earliest before Brussels updates its travel advice.

TUI said on Thursday: “We will only take people on holiday if FCDO travel advice allows and borders are open.

“We therefore await an update from Portuguese officials.

“Should both of the above not be in place on the 17th May we will cancel flights and offer customers a full refund, or let them change to another holiday for free.”

The company issued the update hours after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wrote an open letter to package holiday firms reminding them of their legal responsibilities over refunds.

The watchdog revealed it had received more than 23,000 complaints about operators since the start of the pandemic.

The watchdog said TUI UK had given a formal commitment to provide clearer information on refunds upfront to
customers whose holidays have been cancelled due to coronavirus.

The crisis has proved catastrophic for the travel sector in general, with stop-start restrictions placing great risk on the value of services.

Online operator On the Beach announced on Wednesday that it had temporarily stopped selling trips abroad for the summer.

Chief executive Simon Cooper blamed the traffic light system, arguing it provided no clarity beyond a three-week window about which destinations people could travel to without isolating.

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