Just before 5pm the US extended its travel ban to cover the UK and Ireland.
This has enormous immediate implications for thousands of British travellers already in the United States.
The big airlines should now operate under their general duty of care to customers. They must now arrange repatriation flights and communicate directly with all those affected.
Airlines will be drawing up emergency schedules. It will be necessary for many visitors to come home earlier than they planned. Also thousands who hold tickets for future flights need information on refunds.
There are widespread business impacts, not least on the airlines. It seems BA has told its staff that lay-offs, at least temporary, are inevitable. Virgin will face similar challenges and Norwegian Air’s CEO has reportedly sought financial support. The airline is now widely viewed as highly vulnerable to collapse.
Earlier, Jet2 announced suspension of flights for at least the next seven days to mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands with immediate effect.
Very quickly I was getting concerned emails from passengers saying they had not been getting information on what they should do.
The airline assured me in writing: “We are contacting our customers who are currently in these destinations, and who are due to travel, to advise them of their options”.
The only real option is to take a repatriation flight, but the schedule of flights is having to be urgently drafted. Our sympathies must also extend to frontline airline staff who will be dealing with unprecedented levels of reorganisation and improvising plans in extremely difficult circumstances.
Jet2 urged worried passengers not to call them. This indicates that they simply don’t have the capacity to respond to the very high levels of calls they anticipated.
Ryanair Group (including Buzz and Lauda) cancelled all flights to/from Poland, from 24:00 Sat 14 Mar until 24:00 - Tues 31st March.
The airline tells me it is contacting customers. Like Jet2, it is urging passengers not to call. Ryanair aims to email all affected customers.
The consumer group Which? today issued an excellent summery of passengers rights amid this chaos and confusion. Their advice guides on how the #CoronavirusPandemic will affect your rights.
Rory Boland the editor of Which? Travel gave some very good advice which needs to get out to those affected.
He said: "For anyone whose return flight to the UK is cancelled, it’s rarely a good idea to accept a refund as doing so ends the airline’s duty of care to you. Instead insist on the airline meeting its obligations to get you home on the earliest available alternative flight - with another carrier if necessary."
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know