Around 20,000 flyers thought to be affected by Air Belgium’s cancellation of passenger flights will not receive prompt refunds unless the European Commission steps in, according to a complaint by European travel agents.
Picked up by Belga news agency, the travel agents appear to claim Air Belgium is using a legal process to avoid refunding passengers booked to fly this autumn and beyond.
Rights of passengers
Air Belgium has invoked a judicial reorganisation process and from 3 October 2023 will cease to operate passenger flights. From that date, only cargo and leased aircraft will fly under the Air Belgium colours.
The judicial procedure means the airline will not make any arrangements with creditors to pay off any debts until after the courts give the reorganisation the go-ahead. This could take up to a year, according to some industry observers – a delay that means passengers may not receive refunds for a very long time.
The Association of European Travel Agents (ECTAA), representing around 80,000 travel agents around the block, is now demanding action from the European Commission to protect “the rights and interests of passengers and tour operators.”
Not just the cost of flights
On social media, Air Belgium has had to face questions from angry customers, who point out it is not only the cost of the flight that they risk losing:
“Will you be reimbursing the costs of my resort cancellations and transportation expenses? Seems like a long shot. As for ticket refunds, still waiting in anticipation. Oddly enough, had to hear about this from a friend—no official communication received,” said one Air Belgium ticket holder, on X.
Travel agents have to pay
Meanwhile it is travel agents, ECTAA says, who are picking up the pieces with passengers. Air Belgium is guilty of “blatant disregard for passengers’ rights” says the trade association, noting that the failure to reimburse passengers “violates European Regulation 261/2004, which provides for refunds within seven days of a flight being cancelled.”
Once again, an airline has interrupted the refund process, while travel agents have to pay additional sums for future flights that have already been cancelled.the ECTAA spokesperson
The airline’s reorganisation comes due to “chronically unprofitable” performance, just five years after it began passenger flights. The carrier has blamed “increased competition” though in reality it has also faced the Covid-19 crisis and fuel price hikes in that time.
Measures put in place in April 2023, to focus commercial passenger operations on just two main destinations (South Africa and Mauritius, with remaining capacity allocated to cargo and leasing operations) have failed to keep the passenger service in action.
With about 500 employees currently, the airline has said that redundancies will be avoided through reassignment as staff employed in its commercial passenger operations will gradually be offered other work within the firm.