EU guides passengers on flights cancelled by COVID-19

What to do for flight cancellations

There are many travelers, as on a visitor visa, who are stranded in the EU countries as they have imposed travel restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. To their knowledge and clarity, the EU Commission has published guidelines. This set of guidelines gives detailed information on the rights of passengers who are stuck in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flight cancellations owing to travel restrictions

The options airlines are obliged to give a passenger whose flights are canceled due to COVID-19 are:

  • Re-routing at a later date at passenger’s convenience
  • Re-routing at the earliest opportunity
  • Reimbursement/refund.

If re-routing is the option a passenger chooses, he/she may have to wait for a long time as the air traffic is uncertain as of now owing to the pandemic situation. So, attempting to re-route at the earliest chance could in fact take time. Rather it would be better for passengers to attempt re-routing at his/her convenience.

If the passenger chooses to get refunded, the following scenarios may play out:

  • If the passenger has a return flight on the same booking, then he/she will be reimbursed for both flights.
  • If the passenger’s return flight was on another booking, he/she will only be reimbursed for the outbound flight, but not for the return flight.

Airlines can also issue a voucher to the passengers whose flights were canceled. The voucher can be used as a credit to be used to purchase another flight ticket from the same airline. It will not matter if there is a change in destination.

Compensation for flight delay

The EU regulation 261/2004 is to be understood to check out about compensation for flight delays. It says that in case an airline cancels a flight within 2 weeks prior to the date of departure, the passenger can claim compensation. But this is not applicable in case the cancellation resulted from extraordinary circumstances. COVID-19 travel restrictions come under extraordinary circumstances.

Also, in case the destination country imposes COVID-19 travel restrictions, rendering flights inoperative to that country, the passenger may not be able to claim compensation as it wasn’t the airline’s decision.

Compensation is available only for flights from EU airlines or flights to or from EU countries.

Voucher from airlines against cancellations

Airlines could opt to give passengers vouchers instead of reimbursement. Nevertheless, the passenger must finally have the opportunity to choose between a refund or a voucher.

With a voucher for the same amount as the passenger has paid for the ticket, he/she could use it to book a ticket even if it is not to the same destination or via the same route.

The EU Commission has given a few points as recommendations for the nature of airline vouchers. They are:

  • The minimum validity of a voucher should be 12 months.
  • A voucher the passenger hasn’t used even after its expiry should be reimbursed by the airline within 14 days.
  • When the voucher is valid, the passenger should be able to pay for a flight that he/she will take after the expiry of the voucher.
  • The passenger should be able to use the voucher for package travel or any transport services offered by the airline.
  • No price difference must be there between the voucher and the ticket.
  • The passenger should be able to book a service using the voucher with the same conditions applied to the canceled package.
  • The passenger should be able to transfer the voucher to another passenger without incurring added costs.
  • The voucher that the airline issues must specify the validity period and the passenger’s rights either in electronic form or on paper.

But since all airlines are following these guidelines, the passenger must check for the following before accepting the voucher to a reimbursement.

  • The length of the voucher’s validity
  • The usability of the voucher to buy a ticket for someone else
  • The transferability of the voucher
  • The option of using the remainder of the amount in the voucher in case the passenger does not use it fully
  • The price coverage of the voucher (whether it covers the entire price of the ticket)

Airline not reimbursing the ticket upon flight cancellation

The passenger has all the right conferred by EU law to demand a full reimbursement for flights canceled. In case the airline refuses to reimburse, the passenger can resort to actions including written complaints and making the booking transaction void and fraudulent by collaborating with the bank.

But one thing to be considered is that in the event of overworked airline staff, the process of reimbursement may get delayed. But if there’s a denial or failure to reimburse, the passenger has ways to counter it.

Whether the airline offer care to the passenger

In case a passenger is affected by travel disruptions owing to incidents like the COVID-19 pandemic and is waiting to be re-routed, then it becomes the responsibility of the airline to offer the passenger care for free. This includes accommodation at a hotel, transportation to the hotel and meals, and refreshments. In case the passenger is disabled, the extra assistance necessary should be provided.

The airline must make sure that the passenger gets care in proportion to his/her needs and the time spent waiting. The price of the ticket should not influence the care given.

But it has to be noted here that if the passenger chooses to be reimbursed fully or to be re-routed at a later date of his/her choice, the airline isn’t obliged to provide care to such passengers.

The passenger canceling the trip

If the passenger cancels the trip, he/she is not eligible for automatic reimbursement. It will depend on whether the ticket is refundable or non-refundable. Other terms and conditions attached to the ticket will also count.

Passenger’s rights

As per the guidelines from the EU Commission in the context of COVID-19 situation, in case of the airline delaying the flight the passenger can:

  • Choose between re-routing and reimbursement
  • Claim the right to care the airline should offer by providing meals and refreshments for the time the passenger waits for resolution, arranging accommodation in a hotel, and arrange transportation to the place of accommodation.
  • Claim compensation in every case except when it’s an “extraordinary circumstance” that’s beyond the control of the airlines.

The passenger doesn’t have the right to reimbursement or compensation if he/she cancels the flight by himself/herself.

If you are looking to Study, Work, Visit, Invest or Migrate to Europe, talk to Y-Axis, the World’s No.1 Immigration & Visa Company.

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Anshul Singhal

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