COVID-19: Consumer advice for air travel at March 2020
In light of the latest COVID-19 travel disruption, the European Consumer Centre Ireland is looking at what rights have changed for air travel passengers at present.
The European Consumer Centre Ireland (ECC Ireland) currently receives an exceptional volume of consumer enquiries about international travel entitlements, to which we are responding as quickly as we can. In an effort to highlight the most important information relevant to Irish consumers with respect to the ongoing Coronavirus-related travel disruptions within Europe and beyond, please read our general consumer advice before you travel here.
Given the extraordinary volume of enquiries being made to travel operators at the moment, and the rapidly changing situation in Europe and globally, the best course of action if you are travelling from Ireland by air, sea and land in the very near future is:
- Follow the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) advice for the destination you are travelling to.
- Contact you travel operator or transport provider if the situation changes in relation to your holiday or flight destination.
- Wait for your travel operator / transport provider to contact you if the situation changes in regard to your booking.
Many travel operators and transport providers are working around the clock to support customers and doing their utmost to offer flexible booking policies and some form of redress at this time. If, however, you are encountering difficulties in communicating with your transport or holiday provider or are experiencing difficulties in securing a refund or other redress options following your flights and other services being cancelled, we compiled these frequently asked questions and answers that you may find useful.
Q: What happens if my air carrier has cancelled or postponed the flight due to the Coronavirus emergency?
A: In the European Union, as per EC Regulation 261 / 2004, if you booked your flight:
- directly with an airline, or
- via a third party such as a booking engine or travel operator
and the flight is subsequently cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions
- in Ireland, or
- in the country / region of destination
regardless of when you are told about the cancellation, your airline is obliged to respect the passenger rights below that remain unchanged, even under extraordinary circumstances*, such as the COVID-19 restrictions.
Air passengers retain these rights and entitlements:
- about any delays, cancellations and / or uncertainties in connection to
their affected flight
- about delays or uncertainties in connection to choosing re-routing instead of reimbursement
The air carrier is obliged to fulfil these obligations at no cost to the passenger, even when the cancellation of a flight is caused by extraordinary circumstances*:
- meals and refreshments during the waiting period
- overnight hotel accommodation, if necessary
- transport to / from the place of accommodation to the airport
- refund of expenses incurred during waiting time (based on receipts)
Please note: Passengers opting for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, or that choose re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, are no longer entitled to care and assistance, as set out above.
- a full refund of the ticket price
Please note: Passengers opting for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket are no longer entitled to assistance, as above.
- at the earliest opportunity
- at a later date of the passenger’s convenience
- The care and assistance entitlements above only apply to passengers who have to wait for a re-routing by the airline, at the earliest opportunity.
- Reimbursement and re-routing are mutually exclusive and the passenger is only entitled to one, and should be given a choice to opt for either of these upon cancellation of the flight.
Refund of airport tax
- For all cancelled flights, even where passengers cancel their flight voluntarily, they are entitled to a full refund of airport taxes as the cancellation takes place before the flight check-in operation.
As a result of the Coronavirus emergency and resulting travel restrictions, the following entitlements have suffered changes:
EC Regulation 261 / 2004 normally provides for a fixed-sum compensation in some circumstances, except for the following.
- Cancellations operated more than 14 days before the scheduled departure.
- Cancellations resulting from “force majeure”* events or “extraordinary circumstances”*, such as travel disruptions due to Coronavirus restrictions imposed by national and local authorities in various countries or regions. These can be:
- Measures taken by national and public authorities that prohibit inward and / or outward flights partially or entirely, or
- Measures to ban the movement of persons to the extent that it eliminates the possibility to reach / enter an airport or board a flight.
Therefore, in the current Corona-impacted climate, if you:
- depart from an EU / EEA***** airport, or
- depart from an airport outside of the EU / EEA*****, and
- arrive at an EU / EEA***** airport, and
- fly on an EU / EEA***** licensed carrier
you are not entitled to compensation where:
- the Government in departure country advises against all travel, or all but essential travel, to a destination impacted by COVID-19
- cancellations or long delays result from COVID-19 related restrictions or requirements imposed by competent authorities in the destination country (e.g. closing airspace or an airport)
- the movement of persons is not entirely prohibited, but limited to persons benefiting from exemptions (e.g. nationals or residents of the destination state concerned)
- airlines seek to cancel flights within the standard 14-day period due to the economic and environmental consequences of operating flights with only a small number of passengers aboard, as a result of:
- restrictions applied within the country of destination
- restrictions on movement within the country (e.g. lockdown / shutdown measures implemented by the local or national government)
- restrictions on access to local services that are critical for non-residents (e.g. hotel closures, restaurant closures, etc), which determine air travellers not to fly.
- the flight is cancelled and the airline can demonstrate that this decision was justified on grounds of protecting the health of crew.
Q: What options are the airlines offering at the moment following the cancellation of flights due to Coronavirus emergency?
Currently, your airline might offer the following:
If you have chosen the re-booking option offered by the airline and change your flight to a later date, you can do so by using:
- the link provided by the airline on their website, or
- the link in their individual link to you sent by e-mail, or
- by any alternative method provided by the airline.
Please note: Remember that, at this time, where most airlines have severely reduced their flights schedule or even grounded their entire fleets, and the availability of flights could be limited.
If you are entitled to a refund, you do not need to urgently contact the airline right after the cancellation was announced. You would have been notified by e-mail of the cancellation of your flight and the option to choose a refund. This is not always automatic or immediate – airlines are required to refund passengers within 7 days of the flight cancellation.
If you do not receive a refund within this timescale, you should do the following:
- After 7 days, submit a complaint to the airline.
- After 6 weeks, if you do not receive a satisfactory response to your complaint, escalate it to a National Enforcement Body that deals with flight rights
For more information on air passenger rights and consumer protections in the European Union, please visit the site of the CAR, which has updated its information in light of the Coronavirus impact on the aviation industry and general consumers’ flight rights here.
Q: What if the airline that I was due to travel on goes bankrupt and cancels all flights?
A: Irish consumers who have paid for a cancelled flight with a company that ceased trading and cancelled all flights can avail of the following redress options:
- Air passengers who booked directly with the airline using a credit / debit card, “chargeback” may be an option. Read more about chargebacks on the website of the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) here, and please contact your card provider for further details.
- Air passengers who booked their cancelled flight through a partner airline with which the now bankrupt airline has a “code-share” agreement (a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline), should contact the code-share partner airline.
- Air passengers who booked their cancelled flight through a booking engine / travel agent are advised to contact the relevant entity.
- Air passengers with travel insurance are advised to contact their provider to see whether the policy includes “Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance” (SAFI) cover applicable to a cancelled flight.
- Air passengers whose cancelled flight ticket was part of a travel package or package holiday, please contact the travel agent or tour operator directly.
Q: What are my air passenger rights in the European Union and where can I complain if something goes wrong?
- You are a resident of Ireland, and
- Your cancelled flight:
- is operated by either an EU or non-EU airline, and
- is within the EU, or
- departs from the EU to a non-EU country
- is operated by an EU airline, and
- arrives in the EU from outside the EU, and
- is operated by either an EU or non-EU airline, and
- You have not already received any of the reimbursements listed above (compensation, re-routing, assistance, etc.)
you can claim your rights by submitting a complaint to the following, in the order below.
Irish air travellers normally based in Ireland should contact:
1. The airline (a list of airlines operating in Ireland can be found here).
If the airline:
- fails to provide you with a response within 6 weeks or,
- your complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction
you can escalate the matter to the following entities in the list below.
2. The national authorities and agencies in Ireland:
- For claims based on passengers rights under Regulation [EC] 261 / 2004, for:
- Flights operated from Irish airports
- Flights to Ireland from non-EU airports operated by EU carriers
contact the Irish Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) here.
- For cross-border disputes in relation to flights:
- back to Ireland / out of Ireland
- within the EU / EEA*****
- from EU / EEA***** to outside EU / EEA*****
- from outside the EU / EEA***** to EU / EEA*****
- on any EU carrier other than an Irish carrier
contact the European Consumer Centre Ireland, here.
- For escalated disputes, if:
- you a resident of Ireland, and
- you have a dispute with a trader also based in Ireland,
you should bring the matter before the Irish courts using the Small Claims procedure here. This is an alternative method of initiating a civil proceeding, provided that the claim does not exceed €2,000.
- Agencies of the European Union:
- you are a resident of Ireland, and
- you have a dispute with a trader based in another EU member state
you can avail of:
- National enforcement bodies in another EU Member State:
- you are a resident of Ireland, and
- have a dispute with a trader based in another EU member state
And you are claiming rights in relation to:
- flights from an airport outside the EU, and
- flights operated by an EU carrier
you can contact the National Enforcement Body of the country where the trader is based in by accessing this list here.
Q: If I booked a flight directly with an airline and I choose not to fly because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation what rights do I have?
A: If you decide not to fly because you are concerned about the COVID-19 situation generally, or the situation on the ground at destination, and:
- the flight has not been cancelled by the airline
- the flight is booked directly with the airline
- the flight is not part of a travel package / package holiday
you have no entitlement to re-routing or a refund.
Nevertheless, you can still contact the airline to see if there are any refund or re-booking options available to you, either as a gesture of goodwill or as a result of a new or temporary company policy in the aftermath of the Coronavirus emergency.
If you are unable to rebook or get a refund from the airline itself, and you have travel insurance, contact your travel insurance provider to see if you can claim on your policy.
Q: What if I don’t want to travel or travel restrictions prevent me from doing so, but the flight has not been cancelled by the airline?
According to the CAR, if the airline has not cancelled the flight, there is no entitlement to re-routing or a refund under Regulation EU 261/2004. Nevertheless, some airlines may offer alternative redress options, such as a voucher for future use.
For the most recent advice regarding Covid-19 travel restrictions and how it affects flights departing from EU airports or arriving into EU airports from non-EU countries on EU carriers, please see updates on the CAR’s website, flightrights.ie, here.
Q: What are my options as an Irish citizen currently on holiday abroad who wants or is asked to repatriate by the Irish authorities, but is unable to get a flight back to Ireland.
At present, if you are abroad or are planning to travel abroad, you should always check the latest information on travel advisories for Irish citizens on repatriation or travel options back to Ireland on the website and other communications channels of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on dfa.ie.
- If you are unable to travel back to Ireland due to Covid-19 restrictions, contact the Irish Embassy accredited to the country in which you are located. These contact details are available on the DFA website here.
- If their flights are cancelled, Irish air travellers currently abroad and looking to repatriate are entitled to seek a refund or re-routing. Airlines also have a duty of care to their passengers under the regulation, so the usual obligations to provide assistance, free meals and overnight accommodation remain.
- If Irish travellers currently abroad and looking to repatriate are now forced to change their plans and / or were urged to return home by authorities in the destination country and / or Ireland, they are advised to contact the respective airlines to inquire on re-booking their flights.
Given the situation at present, and in the context of special measures by airlines of reducing and cancelling flights, Irish air passengers may need to consider making their own arrangements, either because there are no re-booking or re-routing options (flights are reduced or cancelled, so options simply don’t exist), or maybe they cannot get through to their airlines in order to inquire on these re-booking or re-routing options. Irish consumers should check the websites of Aer Lingus and Ryanair for the latest announcements on flight cancellations, and their updated customer service levels and new contact guidelines on aerlingus.com and ryanair.com, respectively.
For more details on transport and mobility measures implemented by the European Union Member States and beyond, please read here.
For the latest information on international air travel restrictions from the International Air Transport Association, go here.
Consumer advice and information about COVID-19 related travel restrictions in relation to specific destinations and modes of transport is changing rapidly. Before you travel, read our general consumer advice here.
If you are based in Ireland and encounter any difficulties with securing a refund in any of the above cases or you would like to make sure what your entitlements are, you are welcome to contact ECC Ireland via our contact page here. As part of the European Consumer Centres Network, ECC Ireland has access to multilingual, in-country teams that are able to liaise with traders on behalf of Irish consumers for these types of cancellations and not only. Click here to find out about our services and how you can submit a complaint.
The service of the European Consumer Centre Ireland (ECC Ireland) remains fully operational with the exception of our call centre. At present, we advise Irish consumers to contact us by e-mail only via our contact page here: eccireland.ie / contact-us. Our staff is collectively and individually doing their best to respond to all queries and complaints as quickly as possible, and within 5 working days. However, due to exceptionally high volumes, we cannot always guarantee this. We will keep the public informed of all relevant consumer news and the latest on Irish consumers’ rights via our website eccireland.ie and on Twitter here: twitter.com / eccireland.
See our media coverage here for more information on consumer rights affected by the Coronavirus emergency from trusted Irish press and online media sources.
Subscribe to our regular consumer news and rights updates here.