Home Business EU Launches Legal Action Over Airlines Failure To Reimburse Covid-Cancelled Flights

EU Launches Legal Action Over Airlines Failure To Reimburse Covid-Cancelled Flights

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The European Commission launched infringement proceedings today against ten EU countries for failing to enforce EU passenger rights law requiring airlines to issue cash refunds for passenger flights during the Coronavirus crisis.

Infringement proceedings have been opened against France, Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Czechia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia and Cyprus for failing to enforce the rule.

Citizens are dependent on national EU governments for enforcing EU law, but several countries have asked the Commission to suspend the law and allow airlines to issue vouchers to alleviate their liquidity problems and prevent bankruptcies. Some countries have openly said they will not enforce the law in order to protect their airlines. The Commission, however, has insisted that passenger protections must continue to apply even during the crisis. In May they recommended that airlines make vouchers more attractive to customers by extending their validity and making them transferable.

“Throughout this crisis, the Commission has consistently made clear that consumer rights remain valid in the current unprecedented context and national measures to support the industry must not lower them,” the Commission said in its infringement announcement. “In these ten member states, specific national rules on package travel are still applicable allowing organisers of package travel to issue vouchers, instead of reimbursement in money, for cancelled trips, or to postpone reimbursement far beyond the 14-day period”.

The ten countries have ten days to rectify the situation or they will start facing fines.

The decision was applauded by consumers organisation BEUC, which has said citizens shouldn’t have to doubly fund bailouts for the airlines, once as taxpayers for bailouts and the others as passengers stuck with unusable vouchers.

“Consumers should not be used as cheap credit to bail out the travel industry,” said Monique Goyens, BEUC Director General. “However, these proceedings only apply to countries which still have such non-EU compliant emergency measures in place. Whilst we very much welcome this as an important signal, countries which have already ended these non-compliant measures are not affected.”

Some countries, such as the Netherlands, have compliant national legislation in place but have openly said they do not plan to enforce it. The infringement action made today only applies to countries who have national legislation incompatible with the EU law, but not to countries refusing to enforce their own legislation.

 “All consumers across the EU who have been forced to accept vouchers during the application of such national temporary COVID-19 measures should have the right to a full monetary refund if they choose,” she said. “It is now in the hands of governments to ensure that people who need it get reimbursed and to restore trust in the travel and tourism sector.”

Several consumers groups have already launched legal actions against airlines. German company Flightright has sued carriers including Ryanair, KLM, Swiss and Lufthansa on behalf of 20,000 passengers who have not received refunds.

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