In a joint statement, 12 member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Ireland, Letland, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal) ask the European Commission to amend the air passengers rights regulation (EC 261/2004) to allow the temporary issuance of vouchers to preserve the EU air traffic market beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
“When the wording of the regulation was conceived, the current global crisis and its impact on air travel could not have been foreseen,” says the statement.
Under the current regulation, when an airline cancels a flight under extraordinary circumstances (the COVID-19 crisis is considered as such), compensation does not apply, but passengers are automatically entitled to their choice of:
- re-routing to the same destination at the earliest opportunity (under comparable conditions);
- later rerouting, at the passenger’s convenience, to the same destination under comparable conditions (subject to seat availability); or
- a refund of the ticket as well as a return flight to the point of first departure, when relevant. The Regulation says that passengers should be reimbursed within seven days.
In view of the high number of cancellations due to the COVID-19 crisis, a refund could put the financial health of most companies at risk. Carriers like Air France, KLM and Ryanair have told passengers that they might have to wait at least several months for a refund, while others have flat out ignored the refund option and simply issued a voucher.
These airlines thus asked their governments to convince the EU Commission that the Passenger Rights regulation should be amended to allow them to issue a coupon for later use instead of a cash refund.
Until now, the Commission has been very reluctant to change the Regulation. Let’s wait and see how it will react.