26 May 2020
Q: What are my rights for cancelled transport services/package travel in the context of COVID-19?
EU passenger rights regulations provide for passenger rights in the case of cancellation across the different modes of transport. In case of a cancellation by the carrier, passengers have the choice between re-routing and different forms of reimbursement.
Reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket is due following the passenger’s request as follows:
- 7 days for air, sea and inland waterways transport
- 14 days for bus and coach transport
- 30 days for rail transport.
The Package Travel Directive provides for traveller rights in case of cancellation of the package travel contract by the traveller or the organiser. The organiser of the package must issue to the traveller the full refund within 14 days following termination of the contract, in cash or via a voucher, the latter only if the traveller agrees.
Based on these regulated rights above, the European Commission adopted Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights regulations in the context of the developing situation with Covid-19 (18 March 2020).
It then published an Advisory guidance on EU package travel rules in the context of COVID-19 (19 March 2020):
The passengers’ and travellers’ right to get cash reimbursement in money was re-confirmed by the Commission Recommendation on vouchers offered to passengers and travellers as an alternative to reimbursement for cancelled package travel and transport services in the context of COVID-19 (13 May 2020).
Under the passenger rights Regulations and the Package Travel Directive, the
reimbursement can be made in cash or vouchers. However, reimbursement by
means of a voucher can only take place if the passenger or traveller agrees to it.
Following on from the above, the European Commission issued its latest FAQ on passenger rights and package travel (26 May 2020). Read the summary below :
Q: As a consumer, what can I do if I am only offered a voucher?
You can still ask for a refund. However, given the liquidity problems of the carriers and organisers, you could consider accepting a voucher if the conditions are attractive (e.g. the voucher is covered by insolvency protection, refundable after a certain period of time).
There are several ways in which you can seek redress in case of a stand-alone booking or ticket (e.g. for a flight):
1. Complain to the airline
You should always send your complaint to the airline first using the complaint form provided by the airline or the EU air passenger rights form.
2. Complain to national authorities
If you don’t receive a reply from the airline within 8 weeks or if you are not satisfied with the reply, you can lodge a complaint with the relevant national authority in the country where the incident took place, within a reasonable timeframe.
A consumer – trader dispute can be resolved:
1. Out of court: Alternative / Online Dispute Resolution Entities (ADR / ODR)
You can also try to resolve your dispute using out-of-court procedures or an Alternative Dispute Resolution entity (ADR). If you bought your ticket online, you can submit your complaint via the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform.
2. Going to court
You may wish to resort to legal action through:
> the European Small Claims procedure. For flights between EU countries (operated by one airline), you can submit your claim either at the place of arrival or departure.
> the national courts in the country where the airline is registered (time limits differ between countries).
You can also consult the European Consumer Centre in your EU country of residence for help and advice on how to settle a dispute with a carrier / organiser based in another EU country.
Q: What should a voucher offer?
Vouchers may be a viable alternative to reimbursement, if they are:
- covered by insolvency protection – if the carrier / organiser becomes insolvent, the traveller / passenger must be reimbursed by the insolvency protection guarantor set up at national level, by the public / private sector.
- refundable if not redeemed: passengers / travellers should be reimbursed in cash:
- within 12 months of the issue of the voucher (if not used, subject to time limits)
- within 14 days of the end of the validity period of he voucher (if not fully / partially redeemed)
- A voucher is valid for 12 months and the carrier/organiser do not allow reimbursement before these 12 months – the validity and the refund obligation period coincide.
- A voucher is valid for 24 months but passengers / travellers can ask for reimbursement after 12 months. If the passengers/travellers do not request the reimbursement and do not redeem the voucher, the voucher should be reimbursed automatically at the end of the 24 months.
- flexible as to:
- the range of services for which vouchers can be used;
- using the voucher for bookings within the same group of companies;
- transfer voucher to another passenger/traveller at no extra cost;
- guaranteeing the voucher will be sufficient to buy a subsequent trip for the same price as the cancelled trip.
The vouchers should indicate their validity period and specify all the rights attached to them. They should be available on a durable medium, for example through email or paper.
Q: Why should I choose a voucher instead of reimbursement ?
If carriers / organisers become insolvent, there is a risk that many travellers / passengers would not receive any reimbursement at all, as their claims against carriers / organisers are not protected. Hence, secured vouchers (as above) could ultimately lead to better protection of the interests of passengers and travellers, while also helping to ease the liquidity problems of carriers and organisers.
Q: What is the impact of this Commission Recommendation on existing EU legislation?
The Recommendation recalls the rules under the applicable EU legislation but also recognises the unsustainable cash-flow and revenue situation for the transport and travel sectors at present. The Commission therefore recommends ways in which vouchers could work as a cash refund alternative and be more acceptable to passengers / travellers.
It should, however, be stressed that a Commission Recommendation is not binding.
Q: I already accepted a voucher because I was not aware of my rights. Can I still ask for my money back?
If the carrier/organiser did not offer you a choice between reimbursement and a voucher, this was not in compliance with the EU passenger Package Travel rights. However, if you have already accepted a voucher, your redress options are not regulated by EU law; redress depends on the national contract law in your country, where you can lodge a complaint with the national authorities for the relevant sector (like air travel), which will then follow it up with the carrier/organiser.
Q: Can I use a flight voucher for a different destination?
The Commission recommends that vouchers provide passengers flexibility as to the range of services for which vouchers can be used.
Q: Does the Commission Recommendation on vouchers also apply if I booked a cruise?
Yes, cruises fall under the EU legislation on package travel.
Q: I no longer wish to travel and would like to cancel my contract. Can I get reimbursed or change my service?
The EU passenger rights Regulations do not address situations where passengers cannot travel or want to cancel a trip on their own initiative. Reimbursement in such cases will depend on the carrier’s Terms and Conditions for the respective ticket.
We note that various airlines offer passengers who do not want or are not authorised to travel vouchers that can be used to book another trip with the same carrier, within a certain timeframe.
The Package Travel Directive provides that travellers have the right to terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any termination fee in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and significantly affecting the performance of the package, or which significantly affect the carriage of passengers to the destination. All other cases will involve paying a termination fee; under certain conditions, travellers may also transfer their package travel contract to another traveller, subject to extra change costs.
Q: What can I do if I cannot get in contact with the carrier?
More time might be needed to accommodate all passengers’ queries over the telephone and e-mail at present. Some carriers are now putting in place new online systems to assist passengers. Nevertheless, passengers can use different ways of contacting the carriers (including by letter or using social media).
Passengers can also turn to their local European Consumer Centre for advice and assistance with their dispute.
Q: I complained to the National Enforcement Body, but have not received a reply after two weeks. What now?
EU Passenger rights Regulations are enforced at national level by the National Enforcement Body (NEB) responsible for monitoring and enforcing the application of the Regulation by carriers in their sector. The NEB provides a legally non-binding opinion on your options in 3 to 6 months, normally. The duration of an investigation could vary depending on the complexity of the case and the level of cooperation of the carrier.
Q: I bought a ticket via a third-party website. Is it the carrier or the intermediary that will refund or offer me a voucher?
It is the operating carrier that has to fulfil these obligations.
For bookings made directly with an airline, the air carrier with which the passenger has concluded the contract of carriage or another carrier that performs the flight on behalf of the carrier with which the passenger has the contract will operate the refund or voucher.
For third-party bookings, it all depends on the Terms and Conditions of the intermediary booking agents. Given the large variety of these (travel agents, booking platforms, ticket brokers, etc., no general guidance can be given).
Download the FAQ here:
Learn more about passenger rights in the EU:
- Air travel: europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm#nextsteps
- Rail: europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/rail/index_en.htm#nextsteps
- Bus/coach: europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/bus-andcoach/index_en.htm#next-steps
- Ship: europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passengerrights/ship/index_en.htm#next-steps