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It’s no secret that a significant number of airlines around the world have been attempting to circumvent or ignore regulations that order them to offer passengers full cash refunds when their flights are cancelled by the airlines.
Actions taken by these airlines have resulted in passengers being fooled or frustrated into accepting vouchers for future travel when the cost of their trips should have been fully refunded, and a sudden rise in complaints to the authorities has seen some regulators take action.
The European Commission was ahead of the game on this issue and clarified the regulations in the face of the current crisis back in the middle of last month:
In the case of a flight cancellation by the airlines (no matter what the cause is), Article 5 obliges the operating air carrier to offer the passengers the choice among:
a) reimbursement (refund);
b) re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or
c) re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience
That could not be clearer – refunds are due “no matter what the cause is” when an airline cancels a passenger’s flight(s).
What this means is this:
- When flights booked for travel within the European Union (which for the purposes of this regulation includes the UK, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland) are cancelled by an airline, passengers are entitled to request a full refund.
- When flights booked for travel from the European Union (to any other destination worldwide) are cancelled by an airline, passengers are entitled to request a full refund.
- When flights booked for travel to the European Union are cancelled by an EU-based airline, passengers are entitled to request a full refund.
In all three instances listed above, passengers do not have to accept vouchers for future travel when an airline cancels their flights.
Somewhat late to the game (but better late than never), the US Department of Transport waded into this debate last Friday and was equally clear in its opinion on the current situation in the Enforcement Notice it issued:
Carriers have a longstanding obligation to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels the passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.
The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).
The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.
Accordingly, the Department continues to view any contract of carriage provision or airline policy that purports to deny refunds to passengers when the carrier cancels a flight, makes a significant schedule change, or significantly delays a flight to be a violation of the carriers’ obligation that could subject the carrier to an enforcement action.
Again, this really couldn’t be any clearer. The US DoT has stated that if a flight cancellation takes place for reasons outside of the passenger’s control, a full refund is due to that passenger.
This is is a shot across the bows of airlines like JetBlue who have been telling their passengers (in a truly disgraceful way) that the current crisis removes any obligations they have for providing refunds – if a US airline has told you this they are lying and are in breach of DoT rules.
Note: DoT rules regarding flight delays and cancellations apply to flights that operate to, from, or within the United States.
With the European Commission’s ruling covering all European airlines, all flights within Europe and all flights departing from Europe, and with the US Department of Transport’s rules covering all flights to, from and within the United States, the number of passengers covered by these clarifications is significant.
With very few exceptions, if a European or US airline has cancelled your flight(s), you are entitled to a full refund regardless of the reason for the cancellation so do not let anyone tell you otherwise – quote the regulations to the airlines if you have to.
Airlines may try to tempt you into accepting a voucher for future travel in place of the refund you’re entitled to but I strongly advise that you think long and hard before taking them up on this offer.
In light of the recent clarifications, I’m more than happy to name and shame any airline that continues to attempt to circumvent the rules set down by the EU and/or the DoT so please let me know of any experiences you have in the comments section below.