Brussels warns the Netherlands about airline vouchers, reasserts passenger rights
EU nationals are entitled to cash refunds if flights and ferry crossings are cancelled because of coronavirus, and countries such as the Netherlands which do not support this are being written to, the European Commission confirmed on Wednesday.
At the end of April, Dutch infrastructure minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen said the Netherlands is turning a blind eye to the cash back requirement, even though the vouchers are only valid for a year and passengers could be left with nothing if the airline goes bust.
During a news conference to mark the publication of a package of guidelines for a return to safe travel and tourism this year, commission vice president Margrethe Vestager said that ‘European consumers have a right to a cash refund, if that is what they want.’
‘Letters are being sent as we speak to member states which are in breach of this fundamental right,’ Vestager said. Some 11 other EU countries are thought to be following the Dutch position. Later it transpired the letters are ‘aimed at reminding member states about the rules’ rather than the start of any legal proceedings.
The package of measures aimed at starting tourism up again within Europe include recommendations on how to make the vouchers more attractive. ‘Many companies have problems and this liquidity crunch would be less severe if customers accepted vouchers instead of cash refunds,’ Vestager said.
To this end, the commission suggests vouchers be protected against the airline going bankrupt, be valid for a minimum of 12 months, and be refundable after at most one year, if not redeemed.
They should also give passengers sufficient flexibility, allow them to travel under the same conditions, and be transferable.
Van Nieuwenhuizen said in April she had decided to turn a blind eye to airlines breaking the rules to protect their financial position. Nevertheless, the minister said she would like the aviation sector to make the vouchers as attractive as possible, by being more flexible about the conditions and allowing them to be transferred to other passengers.
Alexandre de Juniac, head of the international airline body IATA, said in a reaction that the commission’s recommendations are ‘quite frankly, are not helpful to airlines are consumers. Both need clarity.’
Every traveler must be treated fairly and given what they are owed, he said. But at the same time, there needs to be a harmonised approach to reimbursements and vouchers ‘through a temporary and clearly drafted adjustment of the current passenger rights framework’.
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