EU says that airlines must issue refunds for cancelled flights

May 13, 2020

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Update 13 May 2020 1:30 p.m.: The European Commission has ruled that airlines must give passengers refunds for cancelled flights, rather than vouchers. Some transport ministers from EU member states pushed to allow airlines to be able to issue vouchers rather than refunds in an effort to conserve cash, however, the move failed.

The EU’s executive body said that it would be sending out letters to member states that were failing to force airlines to issue refunds, when applicable. The move is the first step in legal procedures against countries that are breaching EU law.


Several EU transport ministers pushed the European Union’s governing body on Wednesday to suspend rules that require airlines to issue refunds to passengers when a flight has been cancelled.

The transport ministers from 12 EU countries — Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal — have asked the European Commission for a temporary amendment to the rules in order to help their cash-strapped national airlines.

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In place of a refund, the transport ministers are asking for the rules to be adapted in order to allow airlines to issue vouchers for future travel. In their statement, the transport ministers said that the vouchers should be valid for a set amount of time and the right for reimbursement if the voucher isn’t used before expiration. Under the proposal, the transport ministers also said that passengers should be given protection in the case an airline goes under.

However, some EU governments opposed the requested changes to the rules.

No decision was made by the EU governing body on Wednesday. In the past, the EU transport chief has said airlines must provide refunds and can only offer vouchers if passengers opt to accept them, according to The New York Times. The commission is expected to present new guidelines next week.

The ask comes as several airlines across Europe — from Air France and KLM to Lufthansa — have asked their governments for state funding in order to survive the coronavirus crisis.

Under European law, passengers are legally entitled to a refund when an airline cancels their flight. Of course, during the coronavirus crisis when airlines are operating at a loss and facing financial uncertainty given the downturn in travel, many have tried to convince passengers to accept a voucher for future travel instead of asking for a cash refund.

Related: Tips for obtaining a refund when an airline cancels your flight

When a passenger cancels a flight on their own, known as a voluntary cancellation, the airline isn’t obligated to issue a refund — only when the flight is cancelled by the airline.

By issuing vouchers, it allows the cash-strapped airlines to preserve the money already paid by the passenger. The vouchers issued vary by carrier, but are typically valid for a set period of time and allow passengers to redeem the value for future travel dates.

Featured photo by Andrew Holt/Getty Images.

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