EU air passengers’ rights have not been protected after the disorder caused by the Covid-19 crisis, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) revealed in a recent report.
1. Lack of information and forced vouchers
According to the ECA’s analysis, despite the European Commissions’ efforts to protect passenger’s rights, airlines companies have not fully informed customers about their rights during the pandemic. When flights started being cancelled in March 2020, many air passengers were not reimbursed for their lost plane tickets, while others were forced to accept vouchers, ECA found.
Among its many consequences, the pandemic has had a harmful effect on EU air passenger rightsAnnemie Turtelboom, ECA’s member responsible for the report
“While every effort has been made to support airlines and package-tour operators, far too little has been done to secure the rights of millions of people in the EU”, added Turtelboom.
Additionally, the lack of an overview due to the “absence of reporting requirements”, namely on the number of passengers claiming their money back and on the number of unsolved cases within the legal deadlines across the EU, is itself an important part of the problem in enforcing air passenger rights, ECA observed.
2. Slowly paying back
However, as of June 2020, airlines started paying back cancelled flights, even if with significant delays. ECA highlighted the lack of intention from member states to link State aid to reimburse EU passengers, observing that the Commission had suggested that option.
In fact, the tourism sector which has been seriously impacted by Covid-19 —particularly airlines and package tours operators — has received several public support measures approved by the Commission. In total, 54 state aid decisions were adopted on average within 13 days from the notification, 23 of those within one week, ECA informed.
3. ECA’s suggestions
In an attempt to strengthen passenger’s rights, EU auditors suggested the Commission to take adequate measures to protect and inform about air passengers’ rights through social media, guidelines or even legislative proposals. It further urged the EU executive to increase coordination at national level, by using improved tools, and to link State aid to airlines to the reimbursement of passengers.
Both the Commission and national consumer authorities urged airlines to improve the way they are dealing with flight cancellations triggered by the pandemic.