In October, the European Commission and a number of airlines operating in Europe have held several talks to reach specific agreements to achieve better information and timely refunds to passengers following flight cancellations. Passengers’ rights in relation to flight cancellations are regulated in Regulation (EU) No. 261/2004 on air passenger rights in the event of cancellation, denied boarding or long delay of flights, and as a result of the pandemic the Commission prepared a set of interpretative guidelines on these rights in the context of cancellations due to COVID-19.

It has been widely publicized that air transport was hit hard by the pandemic, particularly passenger transport. Flight cancellations and refunds of sums paid in advance have led to a slew of claims by passengers and consumer associations, which alerted the authorities in the European Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC Network) to the measures taken by operators in relation to flight cancellations during the pandemic.

Following the negotiations, the companies have made commitments to the European Commission to adopt a number of measures to protect air passenger rights in the event of flight cancellations. Following are some of the main conclusions and measures that have been adopted:

  • Remaining reimbursement backlogs have been cleared in the vast majority of cases and passengers will be refunded within 7 days as required under EU law.
  • Passengers will now be informed more clearly about their passenger rights in the event of a flight cancellation by an airline.
  • Airlines will inform passengers on their websites, in emails and other communications, about the different options passengers have in the event of a flight cancellation by the airline: rerouting, refund in money and, if offered by the airline, refund in a voucher, and none of the options will be given priority over others or omitted.
  • Airlines will, in their communication to passengers, clearly distinguish passenger’s rights ensuing from flight cancellations by the airline or extraordinary circumstances (Regulation (EU) No. 261/2004), from possible contractual rights that the passenger may have (under the airline's terms and conditions of carriage) as a result of flight cancellations by the passenger.
  • Passengers can be given vouchers, instead of a refund of the price of the flight only if they expressly choose them. Most airlines agreed that unused vouchers that passengers had to accept without being offered the option of a refund (at the early stages of the pandemic) can be reimbursed in money if the passenger so wishes;
  • Passengers who booked their flight through an intermediary and have difficulties getting reimbursement from the intermediary can turn to the airline and request to be refunded directly. The airlines should inform passengers of this option and any condition for requesting direct reimbursement on their websites.