Following dialogues with the Commission and national consumer authorities during 2021, 16 major airlines made far-reaching commitments to bring their practices back in line with EU consumer and passenger rights law with regard to flight cancellations. The commitments came after the Commission and national consumer authorities had called on airlines to improve how they deal with cancellations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commitments made by the airlines include: clearing reimbursement backlogs and reimbursing passengers timely; better informing consumers of their cancellation-related rights; and offering consumers to exchange vouchers for money in all cases where consumers had no choice but to accept those vouchers.
In 2022, the CPC network took stock of how the 16 airlines have implemented their commitments. The information provided by the airlines shows that airlines have swiftly changed their practices in accordance with their commitments and that issues are encountered only in a limited number of complex cases.
For example, the airlines cleared the bulk of their reimbursement backlogs and adapted their websites, e-mail and other communication to better inform consumers of their rights when a flight is cancelled. More than two and a half million consumers were given the opportunity to exchange the vouchers that had been pushed on them for money, with more than 500 000 consumers taking advantage of this opportunity to get their money back.
The 16 airlines are: Aegean Airlines, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Easyjet, Eurowings, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP, Vueling and Wizz Air.
The airlines have prepared summary tables to give a brief overview of where they stand with the implementation of their commitments and what measures they have taken. You can find those summary tables below:
|Aegean Airlines||Implementation table submitted by Aegean Airlines|
|Air France||Implementation table submitted by Air France|
|Alitalia||CPC action closed following commitments made by Alitalia in a national enforcement action conducted by the Italian authorities*|
|Austrian||Implementation table submitted by Austrian|
|British Airways||Implementation table submitted by British Airways|
|Brussels Airlines||Implementation table submitted by Brussels Airlines|
|EasyJet||Implementation table submitted by EasyJet|
|Eurowings||Implementation table submitted by Eurowings|
|Iberia||Implementation table submitted by Iberia|
|KLM||Implementation table submitted by KLM|
|Lufthansa||Implementation table submitted by Lufthansa|
|Norwegian||Implementation table submitted by Norwegian|
|Ryanair||Implementation table submitted by Ryanair|
|Tap||Implementation table submitted by Tap|
|Vueling||Implementation table submitted by Vueling|
|Wizzair||Implementation table submitted by Wizzair|
The coordinated investigation of CPC authorities into airlines’ cancellation practices was triggered by an alert of the Commission in December 2020 based on information from various sources, including BEUC, the EU-level federation of consumer associations, and the French and Belgian consumer organisations UFC-Que Choisir and Test achats/Test aankoop.
In February 2021, the CPC network led by six coordinating authorities - Belgian FPS Economy, German Luftfahrt-Bundesamt, Greek Civil Aviation Authority, Italian Competition Authority, Spanish Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Swedish Consumer Agency - and assisted by the European Commission, sent a survey to the 16 airlines generating the highest numbers of complaints from consumers across the Union.
Following an evaluation of the replies received from the airlines, the Commission and the CPC Network then elaborated a list of measures and urged the airlines to improve their practices with the help of that list. The commitments proposed by the airlines to undertake relevant measures were discussed and finalised in individual dialogues during the months of August and September 2021. The final commitments** made by the airlines were as follows:
- remaining reimbursement backlogs have been cleared in the vast majority of cases and passengers will be refunded within 7 days as required under EU law;
- passengers will be informed more clearly about their passenger rights in the event of a flight cancellation by an airline;
- airlines will give equal prominence on their websites, e-mails and other communication to passengers to the different options the passenger has in the event of a flight cancellation by the airline: rerouting, refund in money and – if offered by the airline – refund in a voucher;
- airlines will, in their communication to passengers, clearly distinguish flight cancellations by the airline (and the passenger’s ensuing statutory rights) from flight cancellations by the passenger (and possible contractual rights that the passenger may have in those cases under the airline’s terms and conditions of carriage);
- passengers can be given vouchers only if they expressly choose them. Unused vouchers that had been pushed on the passenger at the early stages of the pandemic can be reimbursed in money if the passenger so wishes*** (Wizz Air did not commit to offering reimbursement in money to passengers holding vouchers that – according to the assessment by the CPC network – had been pushed on them****);
- passengers who booked their flight through an intermediary and have difficulties getting reimbursement from the intermediary can turn to the airline and request to be refunded directly. Airlines are expected to inform passengers about this possibility and any conditions for requesting a direct refund on their websites.
*Following commitments made by Alitalia in the context of a national enforcement action carried out by the Italian authorities, the CPC network closed its dialogue with Alitalia. Alitalia ceased operations in October 2021.
**In light of applicable examinership and reconstruction schemes, the CPC network adapted the measures requested from Norwegian to the specific situation of that company.
*** The commitment to offer exchanging unused vouchers for money only regards unused vouchers that had been pushed on the consumer, i.e. cases where the consumer had no choice but to accept a voucher. The commitment does not regard cases where consumers had been given a free choice between rerouting, reimbursement in money and a voucher and opted for a voucher.
**** The issue is now followed up by the Hungarian authorities.
The CPC Network launched a dialogue with four major European airline intermediaries that operate some of the largest airline intermediary platforms in the European Union: eDreams ODIGEO, Etraveli Group, Kiwi.com and Otravo.* The dialogue, coordinated by the Swedish Consumer Agency, is a follow-up to the dialogue with airlines that had cast a spotlight also on the role of airline intermediaries in the context of flight cancellations. It aims at assessing and ensuring compliance of those airline intermediaries’ practices with EU consumer law mainly in the following areas: information on consumers’ cancellation-related rights; reimbursements following flight cancellations; and intermediaries’ customer service.
* The platforms operated by these four companies include, for example: eDreams, Opodo, Go Voyages, Travellink, Liligo (eDreams ODIGEO); Mytrip, Gotogate, Flight Network, Super Saver, Travelstart (Etraveli Group); Kiwi (Kiwi.com); Travelgenio, Flygstolen, Vliegtickets, Tripmonster, Flysiesta (Otravo). The dialogue covers all airline intermediary websites operated by the four companies.