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Airline passenger rights 'not protected' in the EU during pandemic, report says

A report from the European Court of Auditors said many passengers were forced to accept vouchers for cancelled flights.

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THE RIGHTS OF airline passengers were not “safeguarded” in the European Union during the Covid-19 pandemic, a report from the bloc’s external auditor has said.

A report from the European Court of Auditors said the pandemic “brought into sharp focus the fact that air passengers were not informed fully about their rights”.

The auditors examined how the Covid-19 crisis affected these rights, with the report highlighting that many airlines forced customers to accept vouchers in lieu of money.

Under EU regulations, airlines must reimburse passengers whose flights are cancelled with the choice of a refund or a re-routing within seven days.

Last April, the Irish government was one of a number of EU countries who co-signed a letter asking the European Commission to temporarily change the rules on how airline passengers can be refunded for cancelled flights.

Several airlines in the EU had initially primarily offered vouchers to people whose flights had been cancelled as a result of pandemic travel restrictions.

The European Commission said in May last year that vouchers alone wouldn’t suffice, reminding that airlines must give passengers refunds for their cancelled flights.

The auditor’s report released today found that “key passenger rights were not protected in this unprecedented crisis, in particular in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Annemie Turtelboom, the member of the European Court of Auditors behind the report, said: “While every effort has been made to support airlines and package-tour operators, far too little has been done to secure the rights of millions of people in the EU.”

From mid-2020, airlines began reimbursing passengers but the report said this often took “far longer” than the seven days set out in regulations.

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The auditors said that many air passengers last year were obliged to accept vouchers, which were not always protected against airline insolvency. 

A statement on the report said the “battle was even harder” for passengers who had bought flight tickets through intermediaries such as travel agents, often being “ping-ponged” around in the search for a refund. 

The report said approved support measures for airlines from the European Commission did not explicitly make the granting of this aid dependent on the reimbursement of passengers.

It said EU States “left the reimbursement of air passengers solely in the hands of the airlines, which followed their own priorities”. 

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