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The European Commission has released guidance to how passengers rights ought to be protected, even during this extraordinary health crisis. Since I couldn’t possibly say it better myself, here’s what the EU has to say…
Passengers and the European transport industry are hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak. Containment measures of authorities, such as travel restrictions, lock-downs and quarantine zones, imply that transport may be one of the most severely affected sectors of this pandemic. The situation is stressful for many passengers, whose travel arrangements have been cancelled and/or who do not wish or are not allowed to travel anymore.
The European Union (EU) is the only area in the world where citizens are protected by a full set of passenger rights, whether they travel by air, rail, bus and coach or ship. Given the unprecedented situation Europe has been experiencing due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the European Commission believes it would be helpful to clarify in this context the rights of passengers when travelling by air, rail, bus and coach or ship, as well as the corresponding obligations for carriers.
Right to Choose Between Reimbursement and Rerouting
In the case of cancellation or substantial delays, the passenger can choose between
- reimbursement (refund);
- re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or
- re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience.
Point 1 – Refund
If the passenger chooses a refund, this must be provided in cash. The airline is not allowed to insist that the passenger accept a voucher. However, the airline’s “duty of care” ceases from the moment that the passenger accepts the refund. (even if the passenger is away from home)
Point 2 – Re-routing
The note recognises that there may be substantial delays before an airline is able to re-route the passenger in an acceptable manner.
However, if the passenger nonetheless chooses to be rerouted by the airline at the earliest opportunity, the airline is obliged to continue with its “duty of care”. (i.e. hotels and meals) The note stresses that, although this might cost the airline a substantial amount, there is no category of “particularly extraordinary” that would release the airline from its duty of care requirements.
Point 3 – Re-routing at a later date
Essentially this is the voucher option being offered by many airlines. Once the passenger chooses this option, they are no longer eligible for a full refund or duty of care.
Right to Compensation
EC261 provides for fixed sum compensation in certain cases. Compensation does not apply if flights are cancelled more than 14 days in advance, nor if “extraordinary circumstances” caused the delay or cancellation.
The note outlines several common scenarios occurring during the COVID-19 crisis and makes clear that all of them ought to be considered as “extraordinary circumstances”.
If you would like to read the entire guidance note, click here to be taken to the EC website.