European airlines are seeking to weaken passenger compensation and refund rights following the COVID pandemic, which have left them with a huge debt burden.
Airlines for Europe (A4E), which represents the region’s biggest carriers, said EU refund and compensation rules had compounded the crisis for its members.
Under EU261 regulation, airlines are given only seven days to refund passengers for cancelled flights.
With thousands of flights grounded worldwide at the start of the pandemic, most airlines struggled to refund passengers within the legal timeframe.
Speaking at A4E annual summit today, Air Francce-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith said the body was ‘looking for a more balanced approach to consumer protection’.
He added:”When events like mass cancellations get put in place this law is not flexible enough to handle such events.”
Under EU261, passengers are also entitled to compensation for flights that are cancelled with less than two weeks’ notice, as well as for long delays, unless the airline is not to blame.
The European Commission has suggested it is not likely to relax the rules, according to the news organisation Reuters, while the UK Government has indicated British carriers will continue to be bound by EU flight refund and compensation rules.
Separately, the Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating whether British Airways and Ryanair broke consumer law by refusing to refund passengers who were unable to fly during national and local lockdowns.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said the pandemic had highlighted the need for stronger passenger rights.
“The pandemic has been incredibly tough for airlines but weakening vital consumer rights protections for millions of holidaymakers is completely the wrong approach to solving the industry’s problems,” he said.
“Which? supports greater government support for the industry but the experience of COVID – which has seen refunds for millions of people illegally withheld by airlines and travel firms – has only reinforced the case for reform of travel laws and regulation to strengthen passenger rights and ensure airlines and travel operators face real consequences when they break the rules.”