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Air passenger protection over Covid crisis under EU scrutiny

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Air passenger protection over Covid crisis under EU scrutiny

Athens Airport - Photo By Leonid Mamchenkov

(LUXEMBOURG) - EU auditors launched an audit Wednesday to assess the effectiveness of Commission actions to safeguard the rights of passengers travelling by plane or booking flights during the coronavirus crisis.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) is to examine whether the current rules on air passenger rights are fit for purpose and resilient enough to deal with such a crisis. They will check whether the Commission monitored that air passengers' rights were respected during the pandemic and took action accordingly. In addition, they will assess whether Member States took passenger rights into account when granting emergency state aid to the travel and transport industry.

The COVID-19 outbreak and health measures taken in response have brought about major travel disruption: airlines cancelled around 70 per cent of all flights and new bookings plummeted. People no longer could or wished to travel, also because of the frequently uncoordinated emergency measures by different countries, such as flight bans, last-minute border closures or quarantine requirements.

EU Member States introduced further emergency measures to keep their struggling transport industry afloat, including airlines, for example by granting them unprecedented amounts of state aid. Some estimates show that throughout the crisis, until December 2020, airlines – including non-EU ones – had obtained or were obtaining up to €37.5 billion in state aid. In addition, twelve Member States notified the Commission of state aid measures to prop up their tour operators and travel agencies to the tune of some €2.6 billion.

Member States also allowed airlines more flexibility in refunding passengers whose flights were cancelled. The Commission issued guidelines and recommendations, including the fact that offering vouchers does not affect the passengers' entitlement to a cash refund. However, the passengers whose flights had been cancelled were often pressured by airlines to accept vouchers instead of receiving a cash refund. In other cases, airlines did not refund passengers on time or not at all.

The EU auditors' report is expected before the summer holiday with the aim of supporting air passengers in times of crisis and launching a general attempt to restore trust in aviation. In the context of this audit, the auditors are also checking whether the recommendations they made in their 2018 report on passenger rights have been put into practice.

European Court of Auditors

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