What do Tier 4 restrictions mean for my holiday plans?

Dec 23, 2020

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Last weekend, the U.K. government plunged London and much of the southeast into a ramped-up Tier 4 lockdown amid fears of a new super-infectious “mutant” strain of COVID-19. Similar to the national lockdown in November, foreign travel is banned except for “limited exceptions,” such as for work purposes. Additionally, people are forbidden from travelling into and out of Tier 4 areas unless for essential reasons. Plus, the previous rule of allowing up to three households to mix on Christmas day no longer applies in Tier 4.

However, before the new rules came into play at midnight on Sunday, 20 December, there was a mass exodus out of London and its environs as people frantically tried to get to either a lower tier or abroad. Chaotic scenes at major train stations and airports ensued with Health Secretary Matt Hancock blasting the actions as “totally irresponsible behaviour.”

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Heathrow’s Terminal 2 on 21 December. (Photo by NIKLAS HALLE’N/Contributor/Getty Images)

Though more than 40 countries have banned U.K. arrivals and scores of flights have been grounded, police sources have told the Daily Telegraph that stopping people living in Tier 4 areas from travelling over Christmas will be “unenforceable.”

So, what are the rules exactly? Are you breaking them without meaning to? If you have foreign travel plans booked over the next few days, can you be stopped from boarding the plane?

Tier 4 rules for travelling domestically

The “stay at home” order has been reinstated for all those living in Tier 4 and residents must not leave or be outside of their homes except for where they have a specific “reasonable excuse,” such as:

  • Work or volunteering (where you cannot work from home)
  • Essential activities (such as buying food or drink)
  • Fulfilling legal obligations
  • Education and childcare
  • Exercise and recreation
  • Medical reasons, harm and compassionate visits
  • Support and childcare bubbles

For clarity, London Stansted and Gatwick are not in Tier 4 — they’re in Tier 2 — but all airports remain open.

A deserted Covent Garden during Tier 4. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski – PA Images/Contributor)

Tier 4 rules for travelling abroad

People who live in Tier 4 are not permitted to travel internationally, except for “limited exceptions,” such as work reasons.

“If you live outside a Tier 4 area, you may still transit into or through a Tier 4 area to travel abroad if you need to,” the Foreign Office said. It also advises the following:

  • Follow all the current rules for where you live, including if they restrict international travel;
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest developments for your destination before your trip;
  • Find out about any entry restrictions, screening or quarantine requirements on arrival that might affect you;
  • If you need to take a COVID-19 test to facilitate travelling to another country, you should not use the NHS testing service. Instead, you should arrange to take a private test;
  • Read the safer air travel guidance on sensible precautions and steps to take if you’re flying. Consider your own circumstances and health, and remember you will need to wear a face covering on flights in England and Scotland;
  • Check with your accommodation provider for information about availability and the safety measures they have put in place;
  • Get travel insurance, and make sure you are content with the level of cover it provides. If you already have travel insurance, check it is valid and provides appropriate cover; and
  • Check your cancellation rights. Speak to your tour operator, transport and accommodation providers if you have any questions.

If you do have a holiday booked to a country that has not banned arrivals from the U.K., you may not be prevented from boarding the plane. But bear in mind that the rules change very rapidly and more countries may be added to the banned list at any time.

(Photo by OLI SCARFF/Contributor/Getty Images)

If you have a holiday booked and cannot go, airlines have implemented flexible booking policies or refund options for those who can no longer travel under the new rules.

If a flight still goes ahead, normally customers are only entitled to a voucher. It’s only if a flight is cancelled or undergoes a significant schedule change that customers can ask for a full refund. TPG advises waiting until the last minute to cancel a flight in case the airline cancels it first if you want your money back.

Related: Tips for obtaining a refund when an airline cancels your flight

Currently, most airlines in the U.K. are refusing refunds to those who can no longer travel under Tier 4 restrictions unless the flight is cancelled. If you’re not happy with this and want a refund, check your insurance policy.

Travel Insurance Explained recommends “that anyone affected by the change in government advice contacts their tour operator or airline in the first instance to discuss their options.”

If a refund is still refused, you may still be able to claim money back through your credit or debit card provider, or through your travel insurance. However, if you do decide to travel against government advice, your insurance may be void. So if you are in an accident or need medical help while abroad, or travel rules change — you won’t be covered.

Related: Understanding your credit card’s complimentary travel insurance

Be mindful also that airports have warned passengers that if they have no ticket or are heading to a country with an active U.K. ban in place, they will not be able to check-in. Those travellers should stay at home.

Featured photo by Joseph Okpako/Getty Images.

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