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Me and and my family are traveling to Italy this weekend for a skiing trip by car, but I am planning to take a returning flight from Milan Malpensa airport.

Can an airport be shut down due to a pandemic? What are my options then?

It seems like I could be stuck with no accommodation or a way to get back home.

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    Did you talk with the airline about this? Feb 24 '20 at 7:23
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    @AnishSheela No. What is the premise of this question? Feb 24 '20 at 7:34
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    Time to double-check what your travel insurance says about it :-)
    – jcaron
    Feb 24 '20 at 7:37
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    @jcaron It does not cover anything that is caused by the nature like natural disaster etc. Including this particular example. Money is not at question here anyway. I just want to prepare for a scenario where I would not be stuck in an airport without options. Feb 24 '20 at 7:40
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    @NeverLucky The premise is that the airline are who is carrying you, so questions about that are best addressed to them. They are best placed to know what they will do, over strangers on the internet. Feb 24 '20 at 17:41
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According to EU law 261/2004 https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm#cancellation

If an airline cancels a flight then you have the right to be scheduled onto another flight to your final destination, the airline has to provide assistance, and you have a right to compensation.

However, here we are talking about an exceptional situation. So the right to compensation will probably not exist, but the airline should still re-schedule or reroute you as soon as possible. But if an airport is shutdown for several days then this might take some time.

Also, although the airline has to provide you with assistance which includes accommodation, the reality is that if 100's of flights are cancelled that the hotels will also be full.

So I would suggest that you look into alternative arrangements yourself.

  1. As you are arriving by car, then consider to also leave by car (or train) and then make alternative arrangements to get to your final destination (which is why I assume you will fly)
  2. If you think that this is highly likely, then look at booking a hotel yourself in advance. You can either:
    • Book a cheap hotel rate and if not needed you lose the money
    • Book a more expensive refundable hotel rate. And if not needed you can cancel and get some or all of your money back (you often have to cancel 24 - 48 hours in advance to get all the money back)
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Can it be closed? Yes. Is it likely? Not yet.

If we refer to the situation in Wuhan, then the most likely situation for the airport to be closed would be if the whole area were quarantined.

In that situation, you could have the following cases:

  • The Milan area is quarantined, but you are outside of it. Then you would need to travel through other means (train, car...).

  • The Milan area is quarantined, and the place you are staying at is within the quarantine area. Nobody can get out, but nobody can get in either, so it's likely you would be able to stay where you are (it's unlikely there would be new guests arriving), though the financial conditions need to be sorted out.

  • The Milan area is quarantined, the place you are staying is outside of it, but you travelled to within the quarantine area just before it was put in place. This one is the trickiest, and it's really difficult to guess how things could play out. My hunch is that hotels in the area would have seen quite a few cancellations in the days leading up to the quarantine, so there should be places available.

In any case, it's not like you are going to be stuck in the cold under a bridge, but it can indeed be tricky and stressful.

Make sure you get travel insurance that covers these situations. Airlines are supposed to help, but there's a limit to what they can or will do.

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