So here we are almost three months into the Coronavirus crisis; the world has changed almost unrecognisably. Many people have had flights disrupted or cancelled and are fighting to get their money back. Lots and lots have been written about this so I’m not going to duplicate the advice save this:
EU Law Provides a Right to a Refund
If the airline has cancelled your flight, then you are entitled to a full cash refund. EU law in the form of EU261/2004, Article 8 provides for this.
They have seven days to provide a refund. If after this they haven’t, and the flight is over £100, then call your credit card company and ask them to do a ‘Section 75 Charge-back’. All you will need is evidence that your flight was cancelled by the airline.
The European Commission recently re-affirmed travellers’ rights to a full refund, despite twelve countries pressing them to water this down in the form of vouchers.
They said the following:
Under EU rules, travellers have the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for cancelled transport tickets (plane, train, bus/coach, and ferries) or package travel. While reaffirming this right, the Commission’s recommendation aims to ensure that vouchers become a viable and more attractive alternative to reimbursement for cancelled trips in the context of the current pandemic, which has also put heavy financial strains on travel operators. The voluntary vouchers should be protected against insolvency of the issuer, with a minimum validity period of 12 months, and be refundable after at most one year, if not redeemed. They should also provide passengers sufficient flexibility, should allow the passengers to travel on the same route under the same service conditions or the travellers to book a package travel contract with the same type of services or of equivalent quality. They should also be transferable to another traveller.
EU Law also Provides Rights to be Rebooked. For Free.
However in today’s article I wanted to focus on a less used area of Article 8 of EU261/2004, which is the clause the deals with airline cancellations. As well as part (a) which deals with refunds, there are parts (b) and (c) as well.
(b) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity; or
(c) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats.
Part (b) is designed with immediate travel in mind. Let’s say you’re travelling with British Airways from London to Delhi and your flight is cancelled. Under part (b) they are obligated to re-accommodate you on the next flight regardless of the actual airline, whether that be Air India or Finnair, or whomever can get you there as soon as possible. Most of the time they don’t do this, and there’s very little one can do about it at the time, other than buy another ticket and sue them for the costs later. This is clearly very costly, which is why I don’t think we’ve seen this challenged in court.
Part (c) is where I want to focus on today. This is the circumstance that most people will find themselves in with a trip that’s been booked, the airline has cancelled the flights, and they’d like to postpone it to another time later this year or next.
Where a flight has been more expensive in the future, for example it’s over a busy period like Christmas / New Year, they’ve been charging people extra. This is due to there only being space available in a higher booking class. For example, the ticket may have originally been booked in ‘P’ discount business, but now only ‘J’ is available.
Airlines have tended to take a more restrictive view of Article 8, Part (c), in that ‘subject to the availability of seats’ means the same booking class.
According to the following blog (in German), the consumer protection agency of North Rheine Westphalia took Lufthansa to court, seeking an injunction against the airline preventing them from applying this more restrictive interpretation.
It seems that they have been successful, and the court has agreed that they cannot charge extra when seats are available in that cabin, but not necessarily in the original booking class. Here is the link to the judgement, again in German.
I’m not a legal expert, especially with the German legal system, but from what I understand, as this was a ruling by a regional court, it won’t set a precedent, but can be taken into consideration by other courts. In addition, Lufthansa could decide to appeal. It is a very positive ruling about a further part of EU261/2004 that reinforces consumer rights.
The Lufthansa Group have been amongst the worst in Europe, along with Air France / KLM Group, for refusing refunds. They’ve also been playing fast and loose with rebookings and now have a court ruling against them.
Personally, I had flights to Sydney which were cancelled and I got them rebooked for free (into a higher booking class), but it did take two calls to get the result that I wanted.
This ruling should hopefully provide travellers with some more certainty when they still want to travel.