Airlines rushed to amend flight schedules and bookings as countries around the world closed their borders to the UK.
The tide began on Sunday morning when the Netherlands said it would stop outgoing flights from the UK. Several nations quickly followed suit.
Now, more than 30 countries have imposed travel bans on the UK, some for at least 48 hours while leaders come up with a plan for stemming the spread, some until the end of January.
So far, the new strain has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and South Africa.
The majority of airlines already have cancellation policies in place, as well as flexible booking, after the first wave of COVID-19 infections caused months-long lockdowns.
Watch: UK to Europe flight bans - What do we know so far?
An EasyJet (EZJ.L) spokesperson said: “Where flights from the UK are not permitted, easyJet is focused on operating its current schedule into the UK over the coming days to help customers get home.
“Impacted customers have the option of transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or receiving a refund. This policy applies as long as the travel ban restrictions are in place. Customers will be notified if their flight is cancelled.
“Due to latest restrictions, we are aiming to make managing flights as easy as possible for customers and so have removed the change fee for flight transfers online via Manage my bookings. We strongly recommend for customers to check the status of their flight and self-serve online, due to the volume of calls currently. “
EasyJet customers can make changes to their booking without incurring a change fee up to 14 days before departure online via Manage Bookings at easyJet.com.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “We understand the difficulties that Covid-19 and Tier 4 restrictions pose to some of our customers. Where a customer is unable to travel for any reason, we offer as much choice and flexibility as possible to help them change or amend their plans, with a name change and two date change fees waived for a new travel date up until 31 December 2022. Where a flight is cancelled, customers are of course entitled to a full cash refund.”
The airline is currently reviewing its flight schedule in light of Tier 4 restrictions in some areas of the UK. It said its teams will be in touch with anyone whose flight may be affected.
Virgin Atlantic provides customers the option to rebook or request a refund if flights are cancelled up until the end of 2022.
Fare differences may be charged, however, this is waived if the new fare is within the following difference: £60 for Economy, £120 for Premium and £350 for Upper.
Virgin Atlantic has so far paid out around £550m in refunds this year, accounting for around 245,000 refund claims.
The Ryanair (RYAAY) Twitter account said customers would be offered “practical alternatives” to flights that were unable to operate due to bans.
Ryanair statement on flights to/from the UK 20 - 24 Dec: pic.twitter.com/U4Tu4lUsGR
— Ryanair Press Office (@RyanairPress) December 20, 2020
It continued: “In the case of all other flights to/from the UK which are permitted to fly, Ryanair will operate these flights to facilitate all passengers who need to travel for business reasons, and are booked on them or wish to move to these flights.
“If any such passengers (booked on operating flights) do not wish to travel during the next 5 days prior to Christmas, then Ryanair will facilitate a free move of their booking (no change fee applies) to any date up to 15th Mar.”
British Airways had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication, however BA’s company Twitter said it is operating a “reduced and dynamic schedule” due to the restrictions. It advised travellers to look at the government’s foreign travel advice.
Due to changing global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule. Please see https://t.co/Lkv0xwOpcC and check https://t.co/IUFFZSQHyZ for more information. pic.twitter.com/dSW8y1aVdq
— British Airways (@British_Airways) December 20, 2020
It said it was receiving a high volume of calls, directing its customers to the “book with confidence” pages on its website.
A company spokesperson said: "Any customers that live in tier four and are due to depart in the next 14 days will be entitled to cancel and receive a full refund or amend for free to any holiday that's currently on sale."
A spokesperson said in an email: “Following the decision by the Portuguese Government to close the borders to UK nationals, we have cancelled holidays to Madeira on 21st and 24th December 2020. We don’t have any holidays operating to mainland Portugal during winter.
“We will be in direct contact with impacted customers to offer them a full refund or the option to amend their booking for free.
“Customers currently in Madeira can continue to enjoy their holidays as planned.”
Travel bans are sending yet more shockwaves through the travel industry, which has already faced a torrid year.
Figures from November show that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects a net loss of $118.5bn (£87.6bn) in 2020, a deeper recision of its $84.3bn forecast in June.
A net loss of $38.7bn is also expected in 2021, more than double the projected $15.8bn loss six months ago. These travel curbs could worsen those losses.
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