Coronavirus and consumer rights

Updated on 13 October 2020

The spread of the coronavirus is currently affecting the standing of consumers in a scope that is unprecedented and in an unforeseeable manner all over the world, especially in the travel industry and the cancellation of services.

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus epidemic a global pandemic. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs recommends that the public avoid all but essential travel abroad and this applies to all countries. If you are already travelling, please follow the information provided by your travel agency, airline and the authorities in your destination country as well as in the social media channels of Finnish missions. Also, make sure that your tour operator or airline has your up-to-date contact information. If you have booked a travel package or flights for the near future, do the same.

If you are abroad and do not have money for a new ticket or cannot for some other reason purchase a ticket, Finnish embassies and honorary consuls can provide assistance. In emergency situations, you can contact the 24-hour helpline of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

A Government decision has started restricting Finnish border traffic starting from 00.00 on Thursday, 19 March 2020. The Government will review the situation approximately every two weeks.

As the epidemic situation may change rapidly, it is recommended for each passenger to check the restrictions on tourists in the destination countries.

More information is available on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Below you will find more information on rights related to both travel and the cancellation of events. However, the situation is completely novel in nature and will evolve so rapidly that there are not yet answers to all the questions that may arise. Information will be updated as thing become clear. In addition, there are no legal precedents or practical solutions in place for many situations in many situations, which means that these and their related liability issues may need to be subsequently assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Frequently asked questions

The corona situation raises many questions and concerns among consumers. The FCCA is closely monitoring the situation and consumer rights advisers have provided answers to the most common questions.

Many customer service lines are very busy due to the coronavirus situation. It is therefore advisable to check first the instructions provided by travel operators and service providers via their normal communication channels. Matters can often also be handled afterwards.

This page:

Package travel

Flights and accommodation

Cancellation of trains and other public transport

Cancellation of services and events

Scams

More information:


Option to cancel a travel package

Free cancellations are possible in situations involving unavoidable and exceptional circumstances in the destination or in its immediate vicinity. Such circumstances include significant risks to human health such as the novel coronavirus. In these situations, the traveller can get their money refunded or possibly get a replacement trip to another destination. The replacement trip is not a genuine option at the moment, but you can negotiate on the rescheduling of your trip with your travel agency.

A journey can be cancelled at no cost, if authorities ask the public to avoid travelling to a certain area. In these situations, tour operators usually cancel the package themselves, as they cannot carry out the trip as agreed. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs will not publish travel recommendations concerning individual countries in relation to the coronavirus.

In any case, the passenger always has the option of cancelling the package before the start of the trip by paying a cancellation fee. According to the general terms and conditions for travel packages, the size of the cancellation fee depends on the date of cancellation. At the very least, the person cancelling has to cover the administrative costs, but the costs of cancellations made close to the start of the trip may be up to 95% of the total cost.

Further information about travel package terms and conditions

Cancellation of the travel package does not entitle you to compensation for damages

Travellers are not entitled to compensation for expenses related to their trip that cannot now be made use of due to the cancellation of the trip. This includes, for example, visa costs.

If the trip was unsatisfactory, meaning that it did not correspond to what was agreed, a discount may be demanded. This is possible even if the problems were due to unavoidable and exceptional circumstances. Minor changes and deficiencies are not, however, sufficient for demanding a discount.

However, compensation may not be obtained from the tour operator for additional expenses, loss of earnings or loss of holiday enjoyment due to exceptional arrangements or cancellations resulting from the coronavirus.

Questions concerning responsibilities in quarantine situations still unclear

The responsibilities of different parties in quarantine situations are still unclear, and assessments cannot as of yet be given on such situations. Tour operators have a statutory obligation, where necessary, to bear the accommodation costs of three extra hotel nights. It is also possible that the traveller will not be charged due to measures taken by authorities. In addition to the above, the tour operator must assist the traveller in making alternative travel arrangements, such as practical arrangements for reserving return transport, and provide other appropriate assistance. Questions about financial responsibilities may need to be resolved at a later date on a case-by-case basis.


Flights

Airlines usually cancel flights themselves when the recommendations (level of official recommendation) and other measures by authorities justify this. At the moment, borders have being closed and travel bans, quarantines and emergency conditions have being declared around the world. Airlines have also cancelled thousands of flights. If your journey is not about to begin anytime in the near future, it is a good idea to follow the development of the situation and information provided by your airline. A passenger’s standing is generally clearer and more secure when an airline cancels flights than when the passenger cancels them. In circumstances as exceptional as at present, airlines may also cancel flights for some time into the future or allow the possibility of postponing flights.

There is not legislation in place on the right of airline passengers to cancel their own flights, meaning that their ability to do so will depend on the airline’s terms and conditions on tickets, the airline’s desire to be flexible, the current situation in the destination area, measures implemented by authorities and the timing of flights. Travellers will not be able to cancel or reschedule the majority of current low-fare flights without any costs.

In the event that an airline departing from an EU country cancels a flight, it must allow the passenger to choose whether they want their ticket price refunded, to have their flights rerouted to the final destination as soon as possible, or to reschedule their flight to another convenient time if seats are available. The same rights also apply to flights that depart from a country outside the EU, if the flight is operated by an EU-based airline.

In normal circumstances, passengers may be entitled to standard compensation if an airline cancels flights less than two weeks before the start of a journey. However, standard compensation is not payable, if the delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. At the moment, due to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ recommend, in light of the rapidly changing official measures, suddenly declared travel bans and national states of emergency, it looks like there will be no reason for standard compensation in cases of cancellations, because the situations are not within the control of airlines. As the situation has evolved rapidly, cancellations made at different times may need to be assessed subsequently on a case-by-case basis, based on the time of the flight, its destination and the reason for the cancellation.

In the prevailing circumstances, travellers will also not be entitled to compensation for damages from airlines in the event of cancellations resulting from corona. An airline will not be liable for any damage if it can prove that it has taken all reasonable measures to avoid the damage.

See more detailed information on the rights of passenger when a flight is cancelled

What if I get stuck in a foreign country because of a cancelled flight or travel ban?

Many countries have implemented travel bans and limitations. If you are abroad and cannot reach Finland, your rights depend on whether your situation is due to the cancellation of the flight or something else, such as quarantine or a ban on leaving the country or area. An airline passenger has certain minimum rights in the event their flight is cancelled and their flight was due to leave from another EU country, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland. The same rules are applied to flights departing from airports outside the EU heading to an airport in the EU, if the airline in question is based in an EU country.

In this case, the traveller may choose either a refund of their money, rerouting to their destination or to reschedule their flight another time if seats are available. Rerouting is currently a difficult option to implement, as capacity is limited and new measures are being introduced daily across the world. Even if rerouting were possible in principle on a different route or on an entirely different airline or even by different means of transport, there is a real risk that the journey could be interrupted even during the rerouting. However, while awaiting a rerouting and during the rerouting, a traveller has the right to receive upkeep and care from the airline responsible for the flight. In these situations, passengers are not entitled to standard compensation and compensation for damages.

Read more on the rights of airline passengers

Cancellation of self-booked accommodation

A self-booked hotel can only be cancelled with certainty if the hotel’s cancellation conditions allow for this. However, if the hotel cannot provide the agreed service at all, for example because the hotel itself or the entire area in which it is located has been quarantined, or the area is in a state of emergency or under a travel ban, the consumer may claim a refund.


Other travel

Trains and other public transport may be cancelled.

Read more about your rights as a rail passenger

For more information, visit the VR website


Cancellation of services and events

Due to the coronavirus epidemic, many public events are being cancelled or postponed to a later date. The rule of thumb in these situations is that the consumer should usually be refunded the money they have paid for the service. Consumers should therefore contact the service provider.

Many companies must temporarily suspend or reduce their service offering. The consumer should negotiate with the service provider so that they can determine how the situation will be compensated. Alternatives may include, for example, a price reduction or later provision of services that could not now be provided.

When cancellations and restrictions to service provision are due to a force majeure such as the novel coronavirus epidemic, consumers do not generally have the right to compensation for excess or useless costs that may result from the situation.


Coronavirus-related scams

Various scams related to the coronavirus are circulating at the moment, as the fear and uncertainty caused by the situation is a good moment for criminals to develop scams that appear credible. Scammers can pretend to be coronavirus investigators or send fraudulent messages. In addition, various health products and natural products are being claimed to offer help against coronavirus.

You should be careful when dealing with potential scams, and it is best not to open spam messages. It is also best to never disclose personal data, bank details or user account data unless you are absolutely sure about the credibility of the message sender.

More information on scams

Up-to-date information on current coronavirus-related scams can be found on the website of the Consumers’ Union of Finland. The same website also provides guidance on what to do if you suspect you are the victim of a scam.

Coronavirus-related scams on the website of the Consumers’ Union of Finland (in Finnish)


The FCCA is monitoring the situation and will provide more information as it becomes available.

The bulletin was originally published on 27 February 2020, and it was supplemented at 9.30 on 13 October 2020.