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Coronavirus: EU governments urged to do more for cancelled flight refunds

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European governments need to do more to protect the rights of consumers struggling to get reimbursed for cancelled flights, one of the architects of the EU’s legislation on passenger rights told Euronews.

Former MEP Mark Watts is the coordinator of UK Transport in Europe. He helped write an EU regulation that requires airlines to offer refunds within seven days.

"Of course the airlines have a cash flow crisis, but it’s probably nothing compared to the cash flow crisis being faced by many households, who may have hundreds of euros locked up in flight tickets that they cannot use this summer," Watts told Euronews in a live interview.

"They (consumers) need that money back, and I think there’s a financial but also a moral obligation on the part of the airlines to pay this money back.”

The European Commission is still hoping to salvage Europe's summer tourist season with a plan to gradually open borders and lift travel restrictions for holidaymakers.

As it unveiled its recommendations on Wednesday, it called on companies to uphold travellers’ rights to get refunds for cancelled trips and suggested ways to make vouchers "a more attractive option for consumers".

"The voluntary vouchers should be protected against insolvency of the issuer, with a minimum validity period of 12 months, and be refundable after at most one year, if not redeemed," the Commission said in a statement.

“They should also provide passengers sufficient flexibility, should allow the passengers to travel on the same route under the same service conditions or the travellers to book a package travel contract with the same type of services or of equivalent quality. They should also be transferable to another traveller.”

However, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson told Euronews that member states had a duty to ensure that refunds always remain an option.

"This is a fundamental right for consumers and we will stick to that," she said.

'Consumers are not banks'

The move comes after a coordinated attempt from a majority of EU countries to suspend the right to a refund and impose vouchers to give struggling airlines some breathing space.

"It is precisely in times of crisis such as these that travellers should be able to rely on strong consumer rights," said Monique Goyens, director-general of the European consumer group BEUC.

"Trying to make consumers bail out transport and travel companies through cheap credit in the form of vouchers is unacceptable: consumers are not banks. We are glad the European Commission agrees and shows the way."

The European Commission also signalled that member states will now be free to introduce state guarantee schemes for airline vouchers without having to go through traditional state aid clearance procedures.

Watts, the former MEP, welcomed the move, saying company coupons would be much more attractive "if people knew they could take the voucher without the airline going bust whilst they’re waiting for their rescheduled flight".

He urged the European commission to get airlines, insurers, and member states around the table to address the issue as quickly as possible.

"Let’s do that in days, not weeks or months," he said.

Watch the interview with Mark Watts in the video player above.