Brexit could mean major changes for British air travel.
British Airways Plane
Credit: Richard Newstead/Getty Images

Airline passengers flying out of the U.K. on British air carriers could lose passenger protections when the U.K. leaves the European Union in March 2019.

Current EU law requires airlines to refund flight and other costs incurred in the case of a cancellation, but they may no longer be required to do so, Travel Weekly reported, and the statute will only apply to EU airlines and flights departing from EU cities.

While airlines would likely continue to refund flight costs, passengers would not necessarily be covered for the costs of a hotel, food, or other expenses in the event of a cancellation or delay. The changes would affect all tickets sold from the U.K. to EU countries, as well as up to 17 other countries that were negotiated under European treaties, including the U.S., according to the same report.

Several British airlines were quick to issue their own statements on the question, with Thomas Cook saying that the travel agency would no longer refund any expenses incurred during delays, though they would continue to refund tickets.

"We are selling holidays for the post-Brexit world, so we are preparing the business to operate in that environment. We do expect some form of agreement on aviation but we now need urgent clarity from government," a spokesperson from Thomas Cook told The Independent.

British Airways and Virgin were more optimistic, with spokespeople from those carriers saying they fully expected a deal that would allow them to continue flying routes to destinations in the EU and the U.S. without changes to service.

Uncertainty about what Brexit will look like has only grown as Prime Minister Theresa May discusses a harder Brexit. If the U.K. needs to renegotiate the air treaties that it was a part of as a member of the EU, the result would be chaotic, according to one expert.

“That’s when all hell will break loose,” said Ashley Raiteri, chief information officer for Air Help, a company that helps travelers claim compensation from airlines.

With airlines no longer forced to follow EU rules, passengers’ only recourse would likely be U.K. courts, which have been historically sympathetic to passengers.

“It could turn out three times as bad for the airlines,” Raiteri told Travel + Leisure.

All of this will ultimately depend, however, on the exact details of the deal reached by the U.K. and the EU, which will determine what air travel will look like after 2019.