Europe’s airlines and travel agents are up in arms over a set of much-awaited Commission guidelines with regard to travel and tourism in coronavirus (Covid-19) times, noting that the recommendations are confusing, unclear and non-binding.
The Commission’s four-point “Communication on Travel and Tourism”, issued on Wednesday, will “create further confusion for airlines and passengers at a time when clear, decisive regulatory action is urgently needed”, said airline federations including Airlines for Europe (A4E), Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE), European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Among others, the Commission said that airlines will have to refund passengers for canceled flights due to the Covid-19 pandemic and that vouchers remain an option.
Airline groups are quick to point out that the recommendations are non-binding; that some airlines may be better placed than others commercially to meet the refund terms; that rules may be implemented differently in various countries leading to the risk of market distortion; and that passengers are left unsure of what to expect from voucher schemes.
“At a time when airlines are facing the greatest crisis in their history, we are disappointed and astonished that the Commission has ignored the request from the majority of member states for a temporary amendment to Regulation 261/2004,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s regional vice president for Europe.
“Millions of jobs are at risk if airlines collapse. Action from the Commission now would safeguard consumer protection and help airlines through the current crisis.”
It should be noted that at least 16 EU member states accounting for 70 percent of EU citizens have said they support the temporary voucher solution.
On their part, the European Travel Agents & Tour Operators Association (ECTAA) said that given the country clusters being created in the EU to enable travel, the Commission recommendation cannot be followed across the board thus leading to an unfair playing field.
ECTAA also notes that the request by the majority of EU member states for an emergency amendment to Regulation EU261 to defer immediate reimbursements for package travel has been ignored.
“A coordinated approach for the resumption of travel and tourism is necessary to lift blanket travel restrictions, apply non-discriminatory and proportionate health and safety standards for travel and tourism services to ensure safe traveling and thus boost consumer confidence in travel,” said Pawel Niewiadomski, ECTAA president.
“ECTAA regrets that the Commission has not been more ambitious and taken leadership in proposing legislative initiatives… The principles set out in the recommendations are very commendable, but what good are they, if member states are not required to follow them,” added Niewiadomski, adding that there is already “a patchwork of different initiatives across Europe, such as different sorts of vouchers, extended refund periods, state financed refund schemes”.