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Ryan says if airlines seek State financial support they must in return be fair to customers who choose not to fly

The new Minister for Transport said the regulations to protect airline customers weren’t made to cope with a global pandemic.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

THE NEW MINISTER for Transport has said that if airlines are looking to secure financial supports from the State during the current crisis, then they’ll have to make a commitment of fairness to customers who choose not to fly in line with the public health guidelines “at the very least”. 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also said he was aware that options given to customers by airlines “may not be fair or workable in all instances” and he would be raising it with the industry at the first available opportunity. 

While the country has begun to open back up following the Covid-19 restrictions, the public health advice is still to avoid all non-essential overseas travel. 

The government has also delayed the publication of a so-called “green list” – countries with a similarly low rate of Covid-19 transmission where people could travel to and from without restrictions – until 20 July at the earliest given fears the virus could be imported back into the community. 

Both the senior public health figures and government ministers have urged people not to travel abroad for holidays at the moment given the volatile situation regarding Covid-19 in many countries.

Anyone travelling into Ireland from abroad is advised to self-isolate for 14 days and must sign a passenger locator form upon arrival. 

However, airlines have been starting to increase the frequency of flights since the beginning of the month after several months of having most services grounded. They have also introduced a number of safety measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus on their services.

At the beginning of this month, Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson – Michael O’Leary is CEO of the wider Ryanair group – said on 1 July that the country “needs to get back to some level of normality”. 

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: “People will not lose their heads just because they’re going on holidays, they will continue to carry out  those sensible measures. So this idea that Covid-19 just comes from abroad, like it’s nonsense.”

In response to that interview, former Health Minister Simon Harris said it made him shout at the radio and added he’d be taking his advice on what to do from the chief medical officer.

No refunds

People who may have booked flights for their summer holidays are now faced with an issue. If they go abroad, they’ll be asked to self-isolate for 14 days when they’re back. 

If they choose to follow the public health advice and not go, and their scheduled flight is still running, they’re not entitled to a refund. 

The Consumer Association of Ireland has previously called on the government to create a compensation fund to reimburse holidaymakers who have cancelled flights on foot of government travel advice

Its policy and council advisor Dermot Jewell told TheJournal.ie that holidaymakers are not entitled to refunds if they cancel their booking and could “be left seriously out of pocket”.

At the same time as calling for the requirements on self-isolation upon arrival to Ireland to be lifted, airlines and companies in the industry have called for government supports to be provided to help them deal with the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis.

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Last month, two regional airlines asked the government for a six-month bailout to ensure their survival. Stobart Air and CityJet said they required “immediate grant support in order to survive” the pandemic.

In submissions to the government’s Aviation Recovery Task Force, all the airlines laid out measures they were calling for government support in

In response to a number of parliamentary queries, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan laid out the position from his department’s perspective on the matter. 

He said: “If a flight goes ahead and a customer either cancels or does not use their ticket, they are not entitled to a refund under EU law. That said, I understand that the main Irish airlines are currently allowing customers who are booked to travel over the summer months to move their flights with zero change fee. Where flights are cancelled by the airlines, people are entitled to a full cash refund.”

Ryan said that the existing legislation and protections for airline customers had not been formulated with a global pandemic in mind and that the “entire system [has been put] under immense pressure and it is causing real difficulty for people and businesses”.

He added that some flexibility from the airlines will be necessary if they are to get financial supports from the government in future. 

“I am mindful that the options put forward by airlines may not be fair or workable for customers in all instances, and it is something that I will be raising with the industry at the first available opportunity,” Ryan said.

Clearly, if the industry is seeking to secure State financial support to help it through the current period – and I believe that is a likely recommendation from the Aviation Taskforce – then a commitment to fairness and clarity on consumer rights will have to be offered in return, at the very least.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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