Refund in cash or voucher: the EC reiterates the right of choice of passengers
Since March, the Pandemic has forced many EU Member States to order the sudden blocking of borders and this has prompted Tour Operators and Airlines to cancel, respectively, holiday packages and flights departing or arriving from/in these Countries.
As already written in an article a few years ago, in case of flight cancellation, passengers, in addition to the right to assistance from the airline and to compensation (except in exceptional circumstances), have the right to choose between two alternative options:
- reimbursement within seven days of the full cost of the ticket, for the part of the journey not made;
- routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at a later date at the passenger’s convenience.
Precisely the choice of the latter option has been precluded to many passengers, who are unlikely to be able to book a new flight due to the restrictive measures implemented by many Countries or, simply, the absence of favourable conditions for a risk-free travel or vacation for their health.
For this reason, the European Commission, in the Communication of 18 March, set out detailed guidelines in relation to the new epidemiological emergency, establishing that the reimbursement of the air ticket can be made in cash or in the form of a voucher, upon acceptance by the passenger . The same recommendation also applies in case of cancellation of a tourist package due to “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances“
However, with a subsequent Recommendation of 13 May 2020, the Commission had to intervene again to clarify this aspect, specifying that the choice between the refund and the voucher cannot be imposed by the Company or by the Tour Operator, but taken freely by the consumer.
This recommendation was necessary because of the numerous refusals made by the companies to the requests for cash refunds from passengers, justified by the loss of liquidity due to the drop in reservations.
For this reason, the EC, with the latest Recommendation, has also provided precise direct guidelines to the Carriers and Organizers (as well as to the Member States) suggesting to them the characteristics that the vouchers should have, in order to be preferred to reimbursement:
- a minimum period of validity of 12 months and a guarantee in the event of insolvency of the Carrier or Organizer;
- the provision of an automatic cash refund, within 14 days from the expiry of the voucher, in the event of non-redemption of the voucher within 12 months from the issue;
- use of vouchers for the payment of any new booking made before the expiry date of the same, even if the payment is made or the service is provided after that date;
- Transfer of vouchers to another passenger at no additional cost.