“We found that the rights of air passengers were not protected during the pandemic and, between March 2020 and March 2021, tens of millions of passengers had their flights cancelled and were very poorly informed about their rights”, says Lusa Annemie Turtelboom, member of the court, in an interview with Lusa News Agency.
On the day the ECA publishes the report “Air passenger rights during the Covid-19 pandemic: essential rights are not protected despite the Commission’s efforts”, Annemie Turtelboom told Lusa that, “at this time, passengers are in fact the creditors of airlines in difficulty, in the sense that their money is in the airlines’ bank accounts and has not been repaid”.
Despite the fact that European legislation provides “certain rights, such as the right to reimbursement if the flight is cancelled, which was largely ignored during this pandemic” and led to these passengers “losing their money”, adds the official.
In addition to the problems with refunds, Annemie Turtelboom also points out that, “during this pandemic, passengers were often forced to accept vouchers instead of refunds”.
“This is illegal, it is against EU law, which says that normally either it is refunded within seven or 14 days, depending upon the category, but that it must be refunded”.
Annemie Turtelboom points out that, at the same time, “airlines received an unprecedented amount of public money, around €35 billion to help them survive and to prevent them from going bankrupt”.
At stake are the more flexible rules of the European Commission for state aid at a time of crisis caused by the pandemic, which led many EU countries to support their airlines, as Portugal did with TAP (first with €1.2 billion and more recently with €462 million) or with SATA (€133 million).
“But airlines have not always used this money to reimburse passengers. Our governments could and should have insisted that this public aid has to be conditional on the reimbursement of passengers”, points out the ECA member.