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Airlines plead for law change over refunds

Airlines, backed by 12 European countries including France, are asking for European law to be changed so that companies do not have to pay refunds to passengers for cancelled flights due to Covid-19 but can offer travel vouchers instead.

Consumer rights’ associations report that airlines are already breaking the law and that thousands of passengers have not been given the refunds they are entitled to. 

European law states that anyone who has had a flight from a European airport cancelled due to Covid-19 can apply for a refund for the full cost of the ticket which should be paid within 7 days of their application.

In a joint statement, issued before a meeting of all Europe’s Transport Ministers, 12 countries said the obligation to reimburse cancelled tickets “places airlines in a difficult situation where they are facing a serious cash flow challenge.”

The countries who signed are Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, France, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, and Portugal. The meeting did not agree to change the law, but airlines are still pressuring for this to happen.

France has already passed a law which allows operators of tourist accommodation such as gîtes to offer a voucher equivalent in value to the price of the service clients had booked, valid for 18 months, instead of a refund.

The European Consumer Organisation, Beuc, says imposed vouchers are not acceptable. It says that across Europe, airlines and travel operators have been “openly flouting EU consumer law, refusing to reimburse consumers for cancelled travel, while many European governments have turned a blind eye.” It says consumers should not have to pay as although the travel industry has been hit hard, so have they: “Many have lost their jobs and are taking a hit financially.”

The French consumer body UFC-Que Choisir recently warned 57 airlines that it will take them to court if they do not respect clients’ rights. It says three of the companies, Emirates, EasyJet and Japan Airlines have responded saying they will offer refunds; the consumer body says it must be made clear to passengers that this option is available, which they say is not always the case.

UFC-Que Choisir says anyone who has had their flight cancelled should continue to pursue their airline for the refund which continues to be their right. You can send an email or letter by registered post using their model letter, available here:

The consumer rights’ association says it is still prepared to take companies to court and that whilst it understands the difficulties airlines are facing, and would even encourage passengers who can, to consider the choice of a credit note, it should not be up to clients in financial difficulty to bear the cost of the cancellation.

It points out that airlines will most likely be given government or European money to keep them afloat, money which comes from tax payers.

This week the Europe Commission has authorised France to give financial aid worth €7billion to Air France.

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