The European Commission announced that 16 major airlines have committed to provide better information and timely reimbursement for passengers in case of flight cancellations. The flight operators’ vow comes as a direct response to a 2020 complaint from the EU’s consumer protection watchdog.
1. Consumer Protection
The airline operators’ pledge to step up consumer protection follows the Commission’s alert to the Network of Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) authorities, in December 2020. The alert was originally triggered by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), which exposed several complaints from passengers over airlines’ cancellation and reimbursement practices in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A large number of passengers complained for not having received due reimbursement as defined by law. Instead, they were offered vouchers with an expiration date of two years, a forced alternative broadly contested.
Airlines have breached European consumer rights on a massive scale during the pandemic. It’s time for airlines to clean up their act.Monique Goyens, BEUC’s Director General
“It is good news for consumers that airlines cooperated during the dialogues, and committed to respecting passengers’ rights and improving their communication,” said the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.
The 16 airlines involved in the dialogue were: Aegean Airlines, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Easyjet, Eurowings, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP, Vueling and Wizz Air.
2. Airlines’ commitments
Outcomes from the agreement between the 16 airlines and the CPC include a number of commitments including refunds within 7 days, according to EU law, in case of a flight cancelled.
The Commission noted that remaining reimbursement backlogs have been cleared in the vast majority of cases.
“I welcome the fact that the bulk of the reimbursement backlog has been cleared and that all airlines concerned have committed to solve remaining issues. This is crucial to restoring passengers’ confidence,” said Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean.
Airlines have equally pledged to inform passengers more clearly about their rights in the event of a flight cancellation. Moreover, flight operators will make it clearly on their communication channels — websites, emails — for passengers to be timely informed.
As for the vouchers, they will be given only if the passengers choose them. The airlines have also agreed that those who still have unused vouchers, from the early stage of the pandemic, can still claim their money back.
For those passengers who have who booked their flight through a third party and have difficulties getting reimbursement from them can turn to the airline and request to be refunded directly.
“These commitments are an important step at putting right some of the wrongs that consumers have suffered. Many consumers across Europe are still waiting for their money back, for flights cancelled in during the first lockdowns in 2020,“ said Goyens.
Despite the good news for air passengers, Goyens remains cautions and urges the Commission and national bodies to monitor closely “whether airlines come good on their promises” while ensuring passengers’ rights.