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French flights and Covid cancellations: Know your refund rights

As Covid rules and regulations continue to shift, we look at when and how you can expect a refund, the best tickets to buy - and how to fight a case

An airport information board with red letters marking Cancelled for every flight

Your entitlement to a flight or trip refund depends on who you booked through, who cancels and why, and the type of ticket you have Pic: SquareMotion / Shutterstock

Thousands of flights have been cancelled and more travel restrictions have been imposed in the past few days, including in France. We explore the rules on when you can (and cannot) claim a refund.

The rules depend on who is cancelling the flight and whether the flight was bought as part of a package including accommodation.

Cancellation of a flight (flight-only ticket) by the traveller

  • Very little chance of a refund for the flight in many cases, depending on the cancellation reason
  • You may be able to claim refunds on the airport taxes (QW and QX) via the airline’s website
  • You may be able to claim on insurance depending on your policy or your credit card conditions
  • Depends on the airline and the ticket type

For example, with Air France, there are three kinds of ticket: Light, Standard, or Flex. Only the last one allows cancellation by the individual with an automatic refund.

Air France is currently offering changes and refunds free of charge and without a reason, until the day of departure, for all tickets purchased before February 1, 2022, for travel before June 30, 2022.

In contrast, some airlines, such as the low-cost airline Transavia, never offer refunds if the cancellation was made by the traveller. 

Check your airline’s rules as it varies. Since the start of the pandemic, many have altered their cancellation policies in the event of a cancellation due to Covid. 

For example, EasyJet is offering refunds on tickets until December 31 if you cancel because you receive a positive test or are a contact case.

Cancellation of a flight (flight-only ticket) by the airline

  • Right to a refund within seven days, under Article 8 of the European regulation no261/2004
  • Airlines can offer a credit note instead of a refund for flights cancelled due to Covid since March 1, 2020. However, this can be refused, and is refundable if not used after 12 months

The consumer group l’Institut national de la consommation has drawn up a letter template for refund requests.

Missed flight (traveller’s fault)

  • Refund extremely unlikely
  • At best, the airline may offer you an alternative flight for a fee, plus the difference in cost
  • At worst, you will need to seek a refund on airport taxes, and check if your insurance covers the missed flight

Cancellation of a flight (flight + another service such as accommodation)

  • Refund required within 14 days for the cancellation by the booking website or travel agency of any package including two or more services in the same trip – including transport, accommodation, car rental and sightseeing
  • Refund required within 14 days if you (the traveller) cancel your trip for the following reason: "Exceptional and unavoidable" circumstances such as bad weather, epidemic, terrorist attacks, etc., at or near your destination, which will have consequences for the proper delivery of the trip.

Sudden closure of borders

  • In the case of package tours, your agency is responsible for your repatriation. If you have had to organise your return yourself, ask for a refund.
  • If you bought a flight on your own, it is up to you to find and pay for a return flight, ideally with the help of the airline.

In some cases, this can be very difficult, as many French nationals have found in the wake of the announcement of the suspension of flights from Morocco on November 29. 

In some cases, airlines such as Air France may set up extra emergency flights. In extreme circumstances, such as in Ethiopia recently, the government may provide charter return flights.

In case of doubt

There are some options if the situation becomes complicated, if you wish to fight the airline, or you are not sure of your rights.

The bottom line

  • Overall, tickets with the most flexible conditions are usually the safest in terms of refunds (but also tend to be the most expensive, of course) 
  • Generally, regular airlines always offer better refund conditions than their low-cost counterparts
  • Make sure you take out good travel insurance, or even Covid-19-specific insurance
  • Going through a travel agency, whether physical or online, is generally the safest way to ensure you will get a refund if Covid dashes your plans.

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