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European airlines could face class-action suit over unpaid coronavirus refunds

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In this file photo dated Aug. 21, 2019, a KLM passenger plane approaches for landing at Lisbon airport.
In this file photo dated Aug. 21, 2019, a KLM passenger plane approaches for landing at Lisbon airport.   -   Copyright  Armando Franca/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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A British legal firm currently leading a class-action lawsuit against British Airways over its 2018 data breach is now threatening legal action against Air France, KLM and Ryanair over their refusal to refund customers whose flights have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawyers from the legal firm SPG Law told Euronews that it was “monitoring the situation very carefully” and invited disgruntled customers to get in touch about a class action case.

KLM, Ryanair and Air France have all refused to refund customers within seven days of flights being cancelled, as required by EU law.

Air France and KLM are pushing grounded travellers to accept flight vouchers which are only refundable a year after the date of issue.

Ryanair originally offered to reimburse fliers within 20 working days but now says any requests will be placed in a “queue until the Covid-19 emergency has passed.”

SPG Law said it would decide on whether to proceed with the lawsuits over the coming days and did not rule out targeting other airlines.

The so-called ‘no win, no fee’ firm is representing 8,000 claimants in a case against BA for a breach that saw the details of as many as 500,000 customers stolen by hackers.

Senior Associate Chris Neill said lawyers would demand that airlines refund customers as well as fight for punitive damages which he estimates could be worth up to €1,150 per person.

Damages come at a cost

Neill says potential clients will get 100% of refunds returned but that SPG Law would need to take 50% of any damages awarded to make the case economically viable.

It is believed the firm would base its legal arguments around “the distress and inconvenience” suffered by customers as well as “poor conduct” by the airlines.

If the litigation goes ahead it would initially be for UK residents but could be expanded for international customers.

Air France and Ryanair were asked for an official comment but none of the airlines responded by the time of publication. In an emailed statement, KLM said: “We do not wish to comment on a potential lawsuit at this time.”

Customers vent their anger

Euronews has spoken to frustrated KLM customers who have been fruitlessly trying to get their money back.

Asmik Sardaryan who lives in Vancouver had been due to fly to Moscow via Amsterdam with her husband and two children.

She said: “We paid about 2,600 euros and it is absolutely frustrating and devastating because it is really not easy to save that amount of money for transatlantic trips.”

“We really feel very frustrated with the fact that the company doesn’t respect the legislation in terms of the cash refunds for flights that are cancelled.”