The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has launched an audit to assess whether the European Commission has been safeguarding effectively the rights of citizens who travelled by plane or booked flights during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.
According to an announcement by ECA, the auditors will examine whether the current rules on air passenger rights are fit for purpose and resilient enough to deal with such a crisis.
Furthermore, they will check whether the Commission monitored that air passengers’ rights were respected during the pandemic and took action accordingly
The auditors will also assess whether member states took passenger rights into account when granting emergency state aid to the travel and transport industry.
“In times of Covid-19, the EU and member states have had to strike a balance between preserving air passenger rights and supporting the ailing airlines. Our audit will check that the rights of millions of air travellers in the EU were not collateral damage in the fight to save struggling airlines,” said Annemie Turtelboom, the ECA Member leading the audit.
Εu travel tech, the industry association for technology travel services and ECTAA, the European travel agents’ and tour operators’ association, welcomed the decision on Monday.
“We are aware that these are unprecedented times for everyone and especially for the travel industry. However, the challenging environment does not justify overlooking consumer rights and implementing consumer-harming practices,” said eu travel tech Secretary-General Emmanuel Mounier.
Airlines: State aid and refund policies
The Covid-19 outbreak and the health measures taken in response have brought about major travel disruption: airlines cancelled around 70 percent of all flights and new bookings plummeted.
EU Member States introduced further emergency measures to keep their struggling transport industry afloat, including airlines, for example by granting them unprecedented amounts of state aid.
In addition, 12 member states notified the Commission of state aid measures to prop up their tour operators and travel agencies to the tune of some 2.6 billion euros.
Member states also allowed airlines more flexibility in refunding passengers whose flights were cancelled.
The Commission issued guidelines and recommendations, including the fact that offering vouchers does not affect the passengers’ entitlement to a cash refund.
“However, the passengers whose flights had been cancelled were often pressured by airlines to accept vouchers instead of receiving a cash refund. In other cases, airlines did not refund passengers on time or not at all,” ECA said.
The EU auditors’ report is expected before the summer holiday.