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Scrap passengers’ right to ticket refunds, airline lobbyists tell Brussels

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By Oliver Whitfield Miocic
Due to the new coronavirus outbreak about 95 percent of the flights have been cancelled. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Due to the new coronavirus outbreak about 95 percent of the flights have been cancelled. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)   -   Copyright  Michael Probst/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Airline passengers who have flights cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic will lose their right to a refund if lobbyists get their way, the EU’s Transport Commissioner has told Euronews

Adina Valean told Euronews that some member states want Brussels to ease existing refund rules to help bail out cash-strapped airline companies.

But Valean said that if airlines want to protect their bottom lines they need to focus on making voucher schemes more acceptable to customers.

Tens of thousands of European airline passengers have been unable to obtain ticket refunds, with companies offering vouchers or replacement flights instead. European regulations say passengers must be offered a refund if a flight is cancelled.

“I know these governments are requesting the Commission to change the law,” Valean told Euronews Now.

“It’s not an option for me. I don’t think that this is the right path. I think companies have to put their energy and thinking into making the vouchers more attractive if they want to use mainly this instrument, but allow passengers to exercise their right to be reimbursed.”

Air France-KLM is among the companies not offering refunds to passengers - despite receiving €11 billion in aid from the French and Dutch governments. KLM told Euronews that current regulations were not designed to deal with the exceptional circumstances of a pandemic.

"Regulations have been developed in anticipation of localized and short term disruptions," it said in a statement.

“No text envisaged the ban and travel restrictions that have begun in recent weeks. KLM believes that the issuance of a refundable voucher constitutes a fair solution and a reasonable balance between the protection of their passengers and the operational realities that every airline has to face.”

Valean said passengers seeking a refund need first to go to their national authorities before any case can be referred to a European level

“My only dialogue is with the member states and I am doing my best to convince them to put pressure on the companies to back European law,” she said. “I don’t take action against airlines. I would like to step up to the frontline but unfortunately this is not the role of the Commissioner.”

KLM customer Noémi Gombas has been trying and failing to get a refund for her flight ticket.

“I think it is unfair, immoral and also illegal,” she told Euronews. “I think that the EU’s position is pretty clear. I think they are on the right side of this. I think they are saying all the right things.

"The problem is enforcement and the Dutch government and namely the Dutch enforcement body was instructed to let KLM get away with this. So I hope the EU will step up and that there will be consequences.”

The Director-General of the International Air Transport Association Alexandre De Juniac said airlines fully understood that passengers were unhappy.

But he said the dire financial situation made full immediate cash refunds impossible.

“We are in a terrible situation in which we are fighting to survive and the cash drain that we have already is putting us almost in bankruptcy,” he said.

De Juniac said the IATA was suggesting delayed refunds as a compromise solution.

Watch the full report