Travel operator Saga says all customers must have a Covid vaccine - but is it legal?

By Helen Johnson
Friday, 22nd January 2021, 12:25 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd January 2021, 1:39 pm
Travel operator Saga has announced that its customers will have to be vaccinated from Covid before being able to travel with them (Photo: Shutterstock)
Travel operator Saga has announced that its customers will have to be vaccinated from Covid before being able to travel with them (Photo: Shutterstock)

Travel operator Saga has announced that its customers will have to be vaccinated from Covid before being able to travel with them.

The firm said it has put these measures in place for all of its holidays and cruises in order to protect its customers, and provide “the safest possible experience.”

Vaccinated in advance of holiday

The travel operator is requiring customers who travel with them to receive their jab at least two weeks in advance of their trip.

Chris Simmonds, Chief Executive Officer or Saga Holidays, said that the company has “taken the decision to introduce the requirement that all customers must be fully vaccinated against Covid‑19 at least 14 days before travelling with us.”

However, in order to allow customers enough time to be fully vaccinated, Saga has decided to extend the suspension of their operations for their hotels, touring and river cruise programmes until 1 May 2021.

The company said it will be contacting all affected customers over the coming weeks.

Mr Simmonds added: “I know how disappointing this news will be for many of you, but I also hope that you will understand why we have made this decision.”

The CEO also noted that customers should get in touch with the company if the decision on requiring a vaccine for travel “in any way impacts your travel plans,” as they “will be able to transfer your booking to a later date or arrange a full refund.”

Is Saga requiring a vaccine before travel legal?

Mike Hagan, Senior Travel Litigation Solicitor at Fletchers Solicitors, said that Saga has a “duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their passengers,” and that this vaccination requirement was “inevitable”.

He added that Saga will likely say that making a full vaccination against Covid a prerequisite to travelling with them is a reasonable term to incorporate into its Terms & Conditions, consistent with their duty to keep customers safe.

Mr Hagan said: ‘’Given the horror stories we heard about cruise ships during the first wave of the pandemic, and the effect of the pandemic on the industry as a whole, it was inevitable that such steps were going to be taken.”

Saga incorporating the vaccination requirement into its terms and conditions will allow passengers who have not had the jab to amend their booking to a later date, or request a full refund provided they notify SAGA in advance, Mr Hagan said.

Slater and Gordon travel lawyer, Stephen Goodman, said: “Tour Operators can, and often do, change their booking conditions, which means that adding a Covid vaccination as a condition of travel is something Saga Holidays can legally do.”

Addressing other travel companies potentially rolling out this vaccination requirement, Ian Skuse, partner at Blake Morgan, said that Saga choosing to do so “is likely to set a precedent.”

In regards to the cruise sector in particular, Mr Skuse says previous coronavirus outbreaks have made them “a particularly visible risk area, and companies are deeply concerned about the safety of their passengers and crew.”

“These vaccine requirements are not about preventing customers from taking a cruise, they are about protecting all customers who want to travel,” adds Mr Skuse.

However, Thomas Pertaia, Legal Adviser at DAS Law, said that requiring all customers to have the Covid jab before being allowed to travel raises issues regarding discrimination.

Mr Pertaia said: “Adopting a policy that requires all passengers to have a Covid-19 vaccine could be indirectly discriminatory against certain groups.

Not least because some individuals are unable to have the vaccine due to their underlying medical conditions/disability and it is this very group who would be disadvantaged by the policy.”

Mr Pertaia adds that this policy may also discriminate against younger passengers who are further down on the vaccination priority list, or a “person of a particular faith or belief.”

If a customer has already booked a holiday, they should consult their terms and conditions, as “Unilateral imposition of vaccine requirements may be in breach of the contract in which case customers may be entitled to a refund of the fees paid and/or compensation,” Mr Pertaia adds.