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Firefighting plane flies over a residential building
Firefighting aircraft on the way to the forest fire near La Palma Image: Tamara Kulikova / Shutterstock

Travel cancellation during heatwave?

As average temperatures rise, we hear the question more and more often in our media and consulting work. "I booked my vacation to the Mediterranean. Can I cancel for free because of the intense heat? Can I cancel my travel contract because of the forest fires?" Here we give our assessment on free cancellation under these circumstances.

Green cross sign of Italian pharmacy with digital display of +40°C
Once again this year, record summer heat levels are being measured in southern Europe Image: Vereshchagin Dmitry / Shutterstock

Extreme heat

The bad news in advance. Heat alone will usually not be a sufficient reason to be able to withdraw from a booked trip free of charge. The fact that it is now hotter than usual on the coasts and in the cities of the Mediterranean in midsummer cannot be considered a complete surprise when concluding a contract. For bookings in midsummer to these places, it can be assumed that it can always be very hot there.

However, if the heat leads to forest fires or prolonged power cuts, for example, which in turn have an impact on the country's infrastructure, there is a danger at the holiday destination. This in turn can lead to a claim for free cancellation, depending on the extent of the danger or impairment. If you have a medical certificate prohibiting you from staying in this heat or smoke, you may be able to argue this. In any case, you should contact the tour operator and try to reach an agreement on an accommodating basis for a cancellation or rebooking.

Forest fire reaches edge of village with Mediterranean houses
Forest fire captures a Spanish village edge Image: Diarmuid Oliver Curran / Shutterstock


In the case of the forest fires, it is questionable whether this is a sufficient reason for a free cancellation. It is not possible to give a blanket answer as to how the situation may affect upcoming trips. The following three things basically determine whether you can cancel the contract with the tour operator, hotel, airline, etc. free of charge:

  1. Time: How imminent is your trip?
  2. Location: Exactly how close to the forest fire will you be?
  3. Booking type: Package tour or flight, hotel, rental car, etc. booked individually?


The more imminent the trip and the closer you travel to directly affected areas, the more likely you are to be able to cancel free of charge. If your trip is not due to take place for many days or weeks, your trip is likely to be rebookable and a refund summarily refused at no extra cost.

Travel Warnings and Unreasonability

Official travel warnings are still remembered from the Corona pandemic. As soon as the Austrian Foreign Ministry issues the highest travel warning level 5 or 6, you have a good chance of cancelling your trip free of charge. This can be justified with the official unacceptability of the trip due to the objective danger at the holiday destination.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently warning of earth tremors and flooding in Italy. However, this is "only" an indication, not an official travel warning. The two highest warning levels, 5 and 6, which make it easy to cancel free of charge, are only issued rarely and in the most serious crisis situations, when "life and limb" are clearly at risk in the country concerned.

However, if there is a threat of danger from the forest fires, a holiday can be cancelled in individual cases. It does not necessarily matter whether there is an official travel warning. It is much more important where the source of danger is located and how close your accommodation is.

If you are already there on your package tour, you should contact the tour operator. The company would then be responsible for the return transport if necessary. In the case of individually booked accommodation, it depends on the legal situation in the country where the accommodation is located. If you leave early, document the unreasonableness of your stay with photos and media reports in order to file a claim for reimbursement afterwards. A good example is a local state of emergency declared because of the heat or fires.

You are entitled to a price reduction due to service restrictions on package tours. This could be, for example, included day trips or sightseeing tours that were cancelled due to heat or smoke.

For individually booked accommodation abroad, the situation is once again more complicated. National law applies in each case. An individually booked flight can only be cancelled if, for example, the airport is not accessible or landing or departure is impossible.

Free withdrawal in case of risk

Package travels

You can always withdraw from the contract for package tours against payment of a cancellation fee. The amount of the cancellation fee is still regulated in the respective contract, in practice therefore in the GTC. Cancellation free of charge is only possible if sudden circumstances arise at the holiday destination,

  • which occurred surprisingly and unavoidably,
  • or significantly affect the implementation of the trip
  • or your carriage to the destination.

Only if all this applies do you not have to pay a cancellation fee.  According to the wording of the Package Travel Act, it is primarily objective criteria of the difficult feasibility of the trip that matter and only in special cases is it possible to include subjective criteria. Depending on the situation on site, there may be claims for price reduction if some included services cannot be provided due to heat or forest fire.

According to the case law of the Supreme Court, the basis of the contract ceases to exist, which can lead to a right to withdraw from the travel contract free of charge, if the start or continuation of the trip suddenly becomes unreasonable for the average traveller. The assessment of the extent of the danger can be based on reputable media reports. Whether a tour operator can theoretically still carry out the trip is not decisive. Also, the law does not provide for a free rebooking to an alternative trip in case of danger at the holiday destination. If the objective circumstances are given, both business partners (traveller as well as organiser, if an EU company) can immediately assert a dissolution of the contract including reimbursement of the travel price.

However, there is also an old ruling on forest fires by the Commercial Court. Here, the court rejected the demand for reimbursement of costs. The judgement assessed the forest fires at a distance of 60 kilometres as not dangerous enough. So it is a legal grey area, the outcome depends on how great the health risk or the limitation of benefits are assessed in the individual case.

If the package tour has to be cancelled due to a forest fire, the tour operator must by law in any case organise the return journey without additional costs. Any claims for price reduction due to the shortening of the trip may be added. If transport is part of the package tour, the organiser must also bear the additional costs incurred due to an early departure.

According to the law, travellers are not entitled to additional compensation for loss of holiday enjoyment due to forest fires or extreme heat. The law excludes if the "lack of conformity" is due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances.

Don't overlook the fact that you always have the option to cancel at a charge. Read the terms and conditions in your contract carefully. Normally, cancellation fees increase significantly the closer you get to departure. You should therefore weigh up whether you should wait and see how the situation develops and possibly risk higher costs, or cancel immediately.

Individual trips

For individual travellers who have only booked a flight or a hotel etc. individually, the situation is somewhat more difficult. In the case of pure flight bookings, the stay on site is not part of the contract. The fact that a booked hotel cannot be occupied is of no concern to the airline, which has transported you to your destination in accordance with the contract. For pure hotel bookings, the law of the holiday country applies. If it is outside the EU, e.g. in Turkey, then the Package Travel Directive and other EU consumer protection laws do not apply. If, on the other hand, the airport is actually closed or the hotel is inaccessible or uninhabitable, there is presumably a claim for reimbursement also according to local law. According to Austrian law (cessation of the basis of the contract) or Italian law (Art. 1463 Impossibilità totale in the Codice civile), this would be the case for individual trips due to the impracticability of the service. The legal situation therefore depends absolutely on the holiday country and whether one has booked through an Austrian company or directly with the foreign company. It may also depend on whether the foreign company clearly directs its offers to Austrian customers.

In the case of individual trips, insurance cover may be available in individual cases in the event of a trip being interrupted. Whether this type of travel insurance applies depends once again on the individual case. However, you should definitely contact the travel company and try to find a goodwill solution. You may be able to obtain a full refund, rebooking at a later date / voucher, or a price reduction. To do this, you should collect serious media reports, warnings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or local authorities on site, and thus document the danger at the destination for your argumentation towards the company.

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