Sixteen major airlines have committed to better informing passengers and to quickly issue refunds in case of flight cancellations, the European Commission said on Thursday. Among other things, the airlines have committed to refunding passengers within 7 days, as required under EU law, in case of flight cancellations.
The pledge came after the Commission had alerted the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) enforcement authorities in December 2020 to address the cancellation and reimbursement practices of 16 airlines during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The Commission and national consumer protection authorities held dialogues with the following airlines: Aegean Airlines, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Easyjet, Eurowings, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP, Vueling and Wizz Air.
According to the Commission, the 16 aforementioned airlines were most frequently mentioned in consumer complaints.
“In the early phase of the pandemic, some airlines pushed vouchers on passengers. They were acting against EU consumer protection rules. That was unacceptable,” Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders said.
He added that following dialogues with the Commission and national consumer protection authorities, most of the airlines have now agreed to refund such vouchers.
“I call on authorities to ensure that the remaining airlines also offer a money refund for such vouchers,” he said.
It is noted that flights booked as part of a package were not concerned by this action.
Following the dialogues, these are the commitments made by the 16 airlines:
- remaining reimbursement backlogs have been cleared in the vast majority of cases and passengers will be refunded within 7 days as required under EU law;
- passengers will be informed more clearly about their passenger rights in the event of a flight cancellation by an airline;
- airlines will give equal prominence on their websites, e-mails and other communication to passengers to the different options the passenger has in the event of a flight cancellation by the airline: rerouting, refund in money and – if offered by the airline – refund in a voucher;
- airlines will, in their communication to passengers, clearly distinguish flight cancellations by the airline (and the passenger’s ensuing statutory rights) from flight cancellations by the passenger (and possible contractual rights that the passenger may have in those cases under the airline’s terms and conditions of carriage);
- passengers can be given vouchers only if they expressly choose them. Most airlines agreed that unused vouchers that the passengers at the early stages of the pandemic had to accept, can be reimbursed in money if the passenger so wishes;
- passengers who booked their flight through an intermediary and have difficulties getting reimbursement from the intermediary can turn to the airline and request to be refunded directly. Airlines are expected to inform passengers about this possibility and any conditions for requesting a direct refund on their websites.
According to the Commission, the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network will continue to monitor whether commitments are correctly implemented.
National authorities will decide how to deal with the outstanding issue of non-refundable vouchers that were pushed onto consumers in the early phase of the pandemic.
The CPC network will also exchange information on ongoing investigations by their members about possible unfair practices of certain intermediaries, notably in the way they inform consumers about their services’ conditions and fees.