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Per this BBC article, Brits arriving at Innsbruck airport were turned away and sent back home at own expense due to not complying with the covid travel rules. Generally, fair enough. It's the responsibility of the traveler to ensure they have all required documentation to enter a foreign country. However in this case, the foreign country hasn't published the rules, so there were no way the travelers or the airline could have possibly known about these changed rules.

Considering there were over 100 people affected, it certainly wasn't a simple case of misunderstanding.

Would these passengers have any standing to recover any costs? Obviously not from the airline, but what about the destination country in some way? What about travel insurance?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 1:57

4 Answers 4

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However in this case, the foreign country hasn't published the rules, so there were no way the travelers or the airline could have possibly known about these changed rules.

This statement that Austria didn't publish the new rules beforehand is simply not true.

It was published in different news sources on the 23rd of December, but it seems, not widely in the British press.

Unfortunately, the Wayback Machines seem to have started their holidays after the 22nd of December since that is the last date that one can retrieve anything from the relevant government sites:

The BBC report (2021-12-28: BBC News - Austria's Innsbruck airport denies 110 Britons entry over new Covid rules) was published over 24 hours after similar reports in the Austrian, German and Italian media.

So this looks more like a holiday season reporting problem.

Would these passengers have any standing to recover any costs? Obviously not from the airline, but what about the destination country in some way? What about travel insurance?

Since there is at least one British news report (see below), quoting the new Austrian regulations, 2 days before they came into effect this is unlikely for both cases.


The only British news source that I can find from the 23rd of December is:

Austria travel restrictions and latest advice | The Independent.
Helen Coffey, Lucy Thackray 5 days ago [as of 2021-12-28]

Austria has once again tightened its rules for UK travellers, after adding the country to its “virus variant list” (virusvariantgebiete) of high risk destinations.

The rule change comes in from Christmas Day and will affect many British winter holidays, especially in the ski sector.
...
Can Britons travel to Austria?.
Yes, but only some will avoid lengthy quarantine.

As of 25 December, the UK is being added to Austria’s ‘virus variant list’, a list of high-risk destinations for the omicron variant.

This means that only travellers with a proof of two vaccine doses and a booster jab, along with a negative PCR test result, will be able to avoid quarantine in the country - everyone else must quarantine for 10 days.

The test (PCR, LAMP or TMA) must be taken within the 48 hours before your time of arrival.

The new rule comes in from Christmas Day and will mean many cancelled holidays for families whose younger members have not yet received a booster - some may not even have received two jabs.

The Austrian and German press also reported the changes extensively on Thursday the 23rd:

Österreichs Einreisebestimmungen - news.wko.at.
23.12.2021, 16:35.
Übersicht Einreiseverordnung NEU per 25. Dezember 2021.
...
NEU per 25.12.2021.
Die Staaten Vereinigtes Königreich, Niederlande, Dänemark und Norwegen wurden in die Liste der Virusvariantengebiete (Anlage 1) aufgenommen. Die Einreise aus Virusvariantengebieten und -staaten (Anlage 1) ist grundsätzlich verboten. Dieses Verbot gilt z.B. nicht für EU/EWR-Bürger. Deren Einreise ist nur mit einem negativen PCR-Test zulässig. Es besteht jedoch grundsätzlich eine Quarantäne- und Registrierungspflicht. NEU ist, dass für alle Personen, die einen Nachweis einer „Booster“-Impfung sowie einen negativen PCR-Test (ACHTUNG: in diesem Fall darf der negative PCR-Test nicht älter als 48 Stunden sein) mitführen, die Quarantänepflicht entfällt. Die neue Verordnung gilt vorerst bis 31. Jänner 2022.

Overview of entry regulations NEW as of December 25, 2021.
...
NEW as of December 25th, 2021.
The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have been added to the list of virus variant areas (Appendix 1). Entry from virus variant areas and states (Appendix 1) is generally prohibited. This prohibition does not apply to EU / EEA citizens, for example. Their entry is only permitted with a negative PCR test. However, there is basically a quarantine and registration requirement. NEW is that for all persons who have proof of a “booster” vaccination as well as a negative PCR test (ATTENTION: in this case the negative PCR test must not be older than 48 hours), the quarantine obligation does not apply. The new regulation is initially valid until January 31, 2022.


Österreich schickt Urlauber direkt nach Landung zurück - Österreich-News | heute.at.
27.12.2021, 14:50 Uhr.
Falsch oder gar nicht informiert.
13 Flugzeuge waren am Sonntag [2021-12-26] in Innsbruck aus dem Vereinigten Königreich kommend gelandet. Für 110 britische Passagiere war jedoch mit dem Flug die Reise schon wieder vorbei. In der Ankunftshalle des Flughafens konnten sie nämlich keine Booster-Impfung samt negativem PCR-Test vorweisen. Rund 70 der Touristen wurden direkt wieder in einen Flieger nach Großbritannien gesetzt, bei 40 Personen war der Heimflug nicht mehr möglich.

"Diese wurden ebenfalls an der Grenze abgewiesen und über Anordnung des Landes Tirol vorübergehend in einem Hotel untergebracht", heißt es von der Landespolizeidirektion Tirol. Am Montag begannen die Abklärungen mit dem Stadtmagistrat Innsbruck als zuständige Gesundheitsbehörde, die Betroffenen hätten sich "sehr diszipliniert, höflich und verständnisvoll" verhalten. Sie alle gaben an, falschen Informationen im Internet zu den Einreisebestimmungen aufgesessen zu sein.

Austria sends holidaymakers back directly after landing - Austria News | heute.at
Incorrectly informed or not informed at all.
13 planes landed in Innsbruck from the United Kingdom on Sunday [2021-12-26]. For 110 British passengers, however, the trip was already over with the flight. In the arrival hall of the airport they could not show a Booster vaccination or a negative PCR test. Around 70 of the tourists were put directly on a plane to Great Britain, 40 people were no longer able to fly home.

"These were also turned away at the border and temporarily housed in a hotel by order of the state of Tyrol," said the state police department of Tyrol. On Monday, the inquiries began with the Innsbruck city council as the responsible health authority, saying that those affected had behaved "very disciplined, polite and understanding". They all stated that they had eaten up wrong information about the entry requirements on the Internet.

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    If I read the Austrian news reports correctly, the changes were also published on the official government law information system websites (RIS / Foreign Ministry) in German, but not in English and existing information was not updated or amended with a warning that they no longer apply.
    – JakeDot
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 21:13
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    @JakeDot The Austrian government is, of course, under no obligation to publish anything in English.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 10:49
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    @gerrit, one could argue that they should update outdated information which they did publish in English. That is different from not publishing translations to start with. But I expect there is no standing to sue Austria or the airline, as the OP hoped for. Perhaps insurance, depending on the fine print of the policy.
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 12:03
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    @gerrit That’s not strictly true — as an EU member, they will be obliged to publish certain information in all EU languages, which still include English (which is an official language in Malta as well as the main if unofficial language in Ireland). But they weren’t required to publish this information in English.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 6:55
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    @MikeScott Do you have a link to a Maltese government site that displays these 'certain information' in the other EU languages (like Croatian, German and Swedish)? On most government sites, where legislation is published in anything other than the official language(s) of the country, a statement exists that translated versions are not legally binding and are, when offered, for convenience only. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 7:29
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There is already a very good answer, but here are some supplemental thoughts.

The obvious question which astonishingly none of the articles dive into is "what happened to the other flights from the UK to Austria that day?". As far as I was able research this, there were no similar occurrences and it seemed to be mostly an isolated incidence. That also means that the information WAS available to the majority of airlines and passengers that day and that the whole discussion about which website was updated when in which language is just political posturing. Unfortunately, this another example of irresponsible press coverage: instead of doing a little bit of research to get to the bottom of what actually happened, there is just random speculation. It's sad to see that from the BBC.

This in turn begs the question. "What was different about this flight?".

The answer in this case is probably "easyJet". Most governments rely on the airlines to communicate and enforce rules to their passengers. Legally, it's the passenger's responsibility, but this has become so cumbersome and error prone that it's in the best interest of the airline to help out. It's possible that easyJet has simply given up doing that: I flew 3 months ago from AMS to BER and they carefully checked my documentation. I did the same flight two weeks ago and they checked absolutely nothing (even though the Netherlands were classified as a "high risk area" by Germany at the time).

Would these passengers have any standing to recover any costs?

No. Proper documentation is always the passenger's responsibility.

what about the destination country in some way?

No. Apparently the information was available to most airlines and passengers so the government not at fault here. Even if they were: getting money from a government is a losing battle.

What about travel insurance?

Depends on what the policy covers. It's very unlikely though, since the passenger made the mistake here.

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  • Yes, I concur. During the Christmas day rush the airline probably failed to do its job correctly, which due to the short notice of the changes, was of greater importance to adhere to. Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 15:09
  • I think it's likely that anyone who booked a package will be able to sort out a refund or rebooking as covid guarantees are standard nowadays, and it would be bad publicity to refuse them. As for the return flight, that might be harder to recover though they could try with the travel provider. Easyjet might also cave even though it's not their responsibility, again due to publicity. Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 17:38
  • While it is unlikely that the passengers will have recourse against the airline, it's entirely possible that the Austrian government will fine the crap out of them (easyJet) for this incident.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 1:36
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    @Kevin: I doubt it. Given my experience with easyJet two weeks ago, they don't care about Covid documentation any more. They wouldn't have such a lax attitude if there were significant fines involved.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 16:23
  • @MarkJohnson: Depends on how you define "Job". easyJet used to check Covid documentation diligently but they apparently stopped doing so (at least when I flew two weeks ago). Most airlines still do this (for example United's Travel Ready center) but I don't think there is legal requirement, but more of a business consideration: what's the cost of the extra support vs loss of revenue and frustrated passengers.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 16:27
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From a legal perspective, in most jurisdictions there is no requirement that the law be "published" in the form of guidance, media announcements etc. This derives from the well known principle that "ignorance of the law is no excuse".

In the UK for example, all Covid-related rules are given effect by way of primary or secondary legislation. They become law the minute the bill is given royal assent and becomes an Act (primary legislation) or when they are made according to the applicable procedure (secondary legislation). It is up to you to make sure you are familiar with every Act and Statutory Instrument which is passed (however impractical that may be in reality) and the law assumes that you have done so.

Accordingly, you are unlikely to have any recourse against the government.

Government guidance rarely has any intrinsic legal effect and there is usually no requirement that it be written or published. Some exceptions exist; in such cases the enforceability and/or requirement to publish will be stated in the applicable legislation. In those cases you might have some recourse, but that would depend on the specific law and facts.

Whether or not you could claim against your travel insurance is a contractual matter - you'd have to check your policy terms. I've personally never seen a clause which protects you from ignorance of rules.

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  1. Confer Who pays return ticket if denied entry?
  2. There’s generally no actionable right to enter a country. I wouldn’t even be so sure you couldn’t be denied from entering the country you hold a (sole) citizenship of. As far as I understand the mentioned CoViD‑19 rules apply indiscriminately of nationality.
  3. Mid-air changes of regulations aren’t forbidden. In the movie The Terminal for instance the destination country stops recognizing a passenger’s nation thus barring him from entry.
  4. National laws of Austria must be published in the Federal Gazette first before they can possibly take effect (the next day soonest). Administrative Acts must also be announced in a dedicated paper, but here you also have the option to announce them individually to appropriate addressees, so they can actually become effective immediately.
  5. Generally, in a state governed by rule of law people have the right to presume the state acts in a predictable manner according to its laws. However, suing the state for compensation is only feasible if there was a positive statement you could expect a certain behavior from the state. In this particular case though you have no credible interest, especially since State Departments around the globe have posted general CoViD‑19 travel advisories mentioning the circumstance of swiftly changing regulations.
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    You cannot be denied entering your home country - as long as it is clear who are you (a local passport or an ID helps a lot). After all, it is your home country where other countries return you if they are a great deal not happy with you. They are expected to let you in even if themselves not happy with you.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 9:55
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    @fraxinus Well, it can at least become quite difficult to return to your home country though if, for instance, you’re put on a No Fly List while staying abroad. And in the context of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh supporters/fighters returning to their country of origin many governments discussed the option of denying entry. I’m not sure whether any country implemented appropriate measures though. Ultimately, border control has the upper hand in your fate. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 13:25
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    @fraxinus There is the current on-going situation with Shamima Begum (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamima_Begum) where the UK decided to withdraw her citizenship. The UK maintains she has an additional citizenship of Bangladesh but this is disputed, however she has been successfully kept out of the UK for years.
    – Dragonel
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 14:27
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    @fraxinus - The whole reason for revoking her citizenship was to deny her entry. So while technically a citizen must be allowed to enter, the fact that you are a citizen today doesn't mean you will always be allowed in.
    – Dragonel
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 14:47
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    "In the movie The Terminal for instance" -- Sheesh, since when is this a legal argument? Or an argument at all? :-)
    – Gábor
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 22:11

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