‘I got fed up and cancelled’: The reality of travelling abroad from Switzerland in a pandemic

Though Swiss health officials advise against non-essential travel, especially to international destinations, some foreign residents have no choice — they have to go abroad for family or work reasons. If you are one of them, this is what you should expect.

'I got fed up and cancelled': The reality of travelling abroad from Switzerland in a pandemic
When travelling internationally, prepare yourself for flight cancellations to long layovers. Photo by AFP

If you want to fly out of Switzerland these days, you need to arm yourself with patience — lots of it.

That’s because buying a ticket doesn’t mean you will actually reach your destination in the most direct way, or at all. 

Jen O. is one example. She had a bad experience trying to get a flight from Geneva to Krakow, Poland, on December 19th.

“The first reservation, made with LOT, was cancelled”, she said. “The following booking, through Frankfurt with Lufthansa, was modified by the airline several times”.

The last straw was the return flight for December 22nd. Lufthansa scheduled Jen’s departure from Krakow to Frankfurt at 4:25 pm, but kept the connection from Frankfurt to Geneva at 1:10 pm.

In other words, the second leg of her flight was before the first.

“I finally got fed up and cancelled the whole thing”, she said. “It just makes no sense to go through all this hassle for such a short trip”.


The long and winding road

Getting from point A to point Z these days often involves a very long layover, which can turn any flight into an epic journey.

Before the pandemic, there was a daily direct flight between Newark (USA) and Geneva.

But that is no longer the case. Robert Milligan’s flight from Newark back to Geneva on November 14th was supposed to take him via London Heathrow.

“All things considered, it was not a bad schedule — leaving Newark at 6 pm, arriving in London at 6:20 am, and getting a connecting flight to Geneva at 8:55 am”, he said.

But the morning flight from London to Geneva was cancelled and Robert was put on a 2:25 pm flight, which would imply an 8-hour layover at Heathrow.

“The layover would have been longer than the flight”, he said. “That makes no sense at all”.

So he changed his return to November 12th, as this was the only available option, and was booked on a flight from Newark to Munich and from Munich to Geneva.

This time too the original flight was modified and another connection was added: from Newark to Munich, then Munich to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Geneva.

“To make it even more frustrating and annoying, the connection time at Munich was only 30 minutes, not enough to get off one plane and go from one terminal to another. I would have to dash like a madman to catch that flight”.

In the end, Robert was able to fly back on a different day and a different flight.

At times, passengers are re-routed in a way that requires them to fly all over the map before arriving at their final destination.

Last year, Carol S. flew nonstop from Miami to Zurich.

But to get back to Switzerland from Florida in February 2021, she will have to fly from Miami to Toronto, from Toronto to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Zurich.

If, that is, none of these flights gets cancelled in the meantime.

In all, out of 11 Switzerland-based foreign citizens The Local talked to this week, four had their recent flights changed and re-routed, resulting in very long layovers and inconvenient connections.

Seven others said their flights had been cancelled more than once in the past two months.

Why is this happening?

Contacted by The Local, SWISS spokesperson Meike Fuhlrott said that the airline’s “fundamental objective is to offer its customers a flight schedule that is as stable and reliable as possible. However, a host of travel restrictions, quarantine provisions and a coronavirus pandemic that is raging more strongly than ever, are currently making this difficult to do”.

She added that as a result of these disruptions, “SWISS’s originally planned flight schedules for the coming winter have had to be substantially downwardly revised”.

“The company currently expects to offer services that amount, at most, to 25 percent of its prior-year capacity. This can mean that flights may be combined (and the passenger rebooked), or even cancelled”, Fuhlrott said.

In such a case, the airline or its codeshare partners will send you an email with the new booking, which you can either accept or refuse.

If you refuse, you will get a full refund, though it may take many weeks before you receive the payment. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


What you should know before you travel abroad from Switzerland

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, numerous flights and other travel arrangements were abruptly canceled. Now the situation has improved, but when it comes to leaving Switzerland and going abroad, it’s better to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios.

What you should know before you travel abroad from Switzerland
Before you fly away, make sure you have contingency plans. Photo by AFP

Summer is here, and Swiss as well as most EU borders are open for tourists. Are you ‘itching’ for a holiday abroad?

Before you leave, here are some tips from the Swiss consumer agency FRC.

Your flight is canceled by the airline.

In this case, should receive a full refund. Currently airlines make this refund more difficult to obtain because they want you to opt for a postponement or a voucher. You can accept this alternative, but you don't have to. However, you will not be able to claim additional compensation, as this is an extraordinary circumstance.

But if you have to extend your stay abroad due to the cancellation, and it is subject to European regulations, you may be reimbursed for accommodation and additional meals for a period of two to three days.

You no longer want to fly because your destination country has increasing rates of Covid-19 infections.

If your flight is maintained but you no longer want to travel for fear of being contaminated, the refund of your flight is not guaranteed, with the exception of airport taxes. However, given the exceptional circumstances, some airlines may (but are not obligated to) modify the reservation or give you a credit for a new flight.

READ MORE: International night train services from Switzerland to resume this week

Your package trip is canceled by your travel agency or the tour operator

In this case, the agency will have to reimburse your money or offer you either an equivalent replacement trip or a postponement of the canceled trip.

Will your unused hotel nights be refunded?

Refunds for hotel reservations are made in accordance with the establishment's policy, so you should read the fine print before booking. It depends, too, on whether the hotel closed its doors, in which case it should refund your money, or whether you canceled the reservation yourself. If latter is the case, you will probably not get your payment back; if you have a travel cancellation insurance, see what the conditions are for such a refund.

However, Airbnb has implemented a policy of ‘force majeure’ related to the coronavirus epidemic for a certain period of time, which offers reimbursement to travelers who have booked accommodation in one of the areas seriously affected by Covid-19. 

Now let’s talk about cancellation insurance

In April, the Local had an article about getting money back for cancelled trips 

While it was written during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the content is still relevant today.

While some insurers exclude any coverage for trip cancelations in the event of epidemics and pandemics, others offer refunds in case of an epidemic, quarantine, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks, but not pandemics.

This may be good to know if you are going to an area that is still impacted by the outbreak, or if an outbreak happens while you are there.

However, if you have to cancel your trip before the departure, or if you have to come back urgently because of an illness, family emergency, or any other exceptional circumstance, then your travel cancellation insurance will likely refund the costs — provided, of course, that you have one.