'Legislation for passengers rights is clear,' says Transport Commissioner

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By Maria Psara, Joanna Gill
'Legislation for passengers rights is clear,' says Transport Commissioner
Copyright  Euronews

The coronavirus pandemic has left many European travellers stranded, out of pocket, or both.

Hundreds of flights have been canceled by airlines, while bus, ferry and rail operators have all also reduced their operations in order to comply with national measures and European guidelines - like restriction of non-essential travel, border closures and quarantines.

The European Commission presented the bloc’s passenger rights guidelines, in an attempt to alleviate the concerns of thousands of travellers and companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

"The legislation for passengers rights is clear. When a passenger doesn't receive the service that for which he/she paid, they should be reimbursed, and that is clear at the legislation, or they can be offered voucher services, but only if they agree on these voucher services. This is the legislation we have in place," Adina Valean, Transport Commissioner told Euronews.

However, offering so much compensation is leaving the airline industry under financial pressure.

"We are looking to see how we can help the airlines to cope with the liquidity problems they have now, well protecting also the rights of passengers," adds Commissioner Valean.

The Commission says that a tailored approach is needed, which will help the industry to overcome the crisis, but will also protect passengers' rights.

"We are prepared to take further steps if needed in order to make sure that industry remains alive and ready to restart its engines. We still hope that there will exist a summer season also for tourism which relies so much in travel so we are looking for all possibilities and flexibility," explains the commissioner.

However, companies don't really seem to agree. In a statement to Euronews, Airlines 4 Europe said that the Commission appears to considerably underestimate the crisis afflicting airlines in Europe:

"This could have serious financial implications for airlines in the short term. EU Member States and/or National Enforcement Bodies should consider accepting a system of refundable travel vouchers as an alternative to immediate refunds and as an exceptional temporary measure."

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that potential claims for cash refunds from EU airlines will total €9 billion ($10 billion) through the end of May alone.

The president of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament MEP Karima Delli recognises that companies should be also supported, but the priority should be for the passengers rights to be respected.

"Everyone has a responsibility. Member states must prepare exceptional measures to benefit the most vulnerable, companies must apply the letter of the law, and citizens must limit their travel and stay home," explains Delli.