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Travel worries Q&A: Your questions answered as concerns rise over holiday plans

As a year punctuated by tragedy draws to a close, many readers have contacted the travel desk of The Independent with concerns about their future holiday plans. The following comprises a fair reflection the key issues, and the responses of our travel correspondent,

We’re due to travel to Hurghada on Christmas Day. Obviously with what has happened recently we are quite frightened of going. But the company won’t give us a refund if we cancel, as they say flights are still going there. What can we do?

Go and enjoy the holiday you’ve booked – or give the trip to someone who is prepared to travel. Proper package holidays can be transferred to other people on payment of a nominal fee.

You’ve booked to a place regarded as safe by the Foreign Office and there’s no reason not to travel. The only restriction is on flights to and from Sharm el Sheikh airport; Egypt’s resorts are regarded as safe.

British Airways and easyJet have cancelled their flights to Sharm el Sheikh until the New Year. Surely that means they think it’s dangerous – so why are some airlines still waiting to decide?

Since the Foreign Office instruction not to flying in or out of the Egyptian resort took effect in November, airlines and holiday companies have been putting in place so-called “rolling cancellations,” usually offering refunds or alternative destinations about two weeks before departure. But with tens of thousands of people due to fly out for Christmas and New Year, and no sign of the ban on flights being lifted, easyJet and British Airways have chosen to cancel their entire festive programme of festive flights; easyJet said it had made the decision “To help provide some certainty for our customers’ travel arrangements over the Christmas period.”

It’s not something they would have done lightly. The move wipes out a spell which is extremely popular among sun-starved Brits and extremely profitable for the travel firms.

Other operators know that the delay in deciding causes stress for customers, but they still hope to offer good, safe festive holidays.

What are the options for people whose flights to Sharm el Sheikh have been cancelled?

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They can choose between a full refund or switching to a different destination – though it’s unlikely at this stage that it will be feasible to find guaranteed sunshine at the low prices they were expecting in Egypt. Sharm el Sheikh is in an unusual position of being accessible on budget flights yet offering reliable sun during the bleak midwinter. Outside Egypt it’s difficult to find anything to match that: the Canaries and Morocco don’t have the weather certainty, and Tunisia is off limits following the massacres of tourists there earlier this year.

Is it safe to go to Disneyland Paris with the grandchildren?

Travel is never entirely risk=free, but the overwhelming likelihood is that you will have a happy and safe trip. As you will discover, there is a heightened level of security in France, but my main recommendation is for something rather mundane: take plenty of warm clothing, because winter temperatures can be very low and you may face lots of standing around at the theme park.

My partner and I are due to go away to Bruges next weekend, but we feel that it is unsafe to travel to Belgium and have requested a refund – which was refused. Surely I should be entitled to my money back?

The travel company has no obligation except to deliver, safely, the holiday you booked.

Belgium has a high threat level – but so too does Britain. We’re living in a country where the terrorism threat is “severe” – meaning “an attack is highly likely”.  I recommend you follow the travel advice of the Foreign Office for Belgium, which says: “remain alert and vigilant, especially in places where there’s a high concentration of people.”

Just last week I booked our first family holiday to Greece, to Kos in May. With the Russian plane being shot down in Turkey should I look to cancel?

No. I can’t see any prospect of any problem, and you will lose your deposit if you cancel. But people who haven’t yet booked should bear in mind that outside the main school holidays you can safely postpone a decision to buy a holiday until much nearer the time. If late booking becomes a trend, it will alarm the travel industry – and you can expect some deep discounts to persuade us to book ahead.

Can you recommend a travel insurance policy that covers cancellation in the event that the Foreign Office says “don’t go” to a particular destination?

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No. In such circumstances, insurance is not relevant – so long as you’ve booked a proper package holiday. If the Foreign Office warns against travel, then the tour operator has to give you your money back.

What’s your advice for cheap winter sun? 

Go to Egypt. Luxor is a fabulous winter location, with antiquity as abundance as the sun. And along with the resorts of Hurghada and Marsa Alam, on the west side of the Gulf of Suez, it isn’t affected by the Foreign Office advice. But prices have been cut to unprecedented levels, with packages available for £250-£350 for a week – and even Christmas/New Year trips are much cheaper than you would normally expect.

Should we all trim our sails and stop venturing abroad?

No. For the average British holidaymaker, overseas travel has never been safer, and while there’s evidently an increased risk of terrorists targeting tourists it would be positively dangerous if everyone stops travelling.

First, it would say to terrorists: “You can close down an entire tourism economy with a carefully placed bomb or a lone gunman,” which in the twisted ideology of terrorism represents a remarkably effective return on investment. Next, closing an industry that brings abundant jobs and foreign exchange could inadvertently cause the kind of festering poverty that can breed extreme responses.

And from a practical point of view, we would be surrendering to terrorism the marvellous opportunities that we have to travel. The alternative is to tolerate a certain amount of danger while at the same time doing whatever we can to minimise the risk.


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