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EU airlines want to water down flight refund rights

Written by: Emma Lunn
A group of European airlines is seeking to weaken passenger compensation and refund rights after the travel industry was hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Airlines have spent more than a year being forced to ground flights and refund affected customers. Airlines for Europe, which represents the region’s biggest carriers, said the so-called EU261 regulation had severely exacerbated the financial crisis for many airlines and it wanted a “more balanced approach”.

EU261 requires airlines to compensate passengers when flight delays or cancellations result in passengers reaching their final destination more than three hours later than originally scheduled.

Ben Smith, Air France-KLM chief executive, said: “We’re looking for a more balanced approach to consumer protection” and added that the European Union’s passenger rights law was “one of the most punitive” in the world.

Smith said the rule wasn’t flexible enough to deal with mass cancellations – as was the case at the onset of the pandemic.

Obtaining a refund for cancelled flights has been a big issue for many air passengers. By February 2021 more than two million people were still waiting for their money back for flights they couldn’t take during the pandemic.

However, the European Commission doesn’t have plans to weaken consumer rights. A EU spokesperson said: “We have always tried to strike the right balance between consumer protection and the protection of the tourism and transport industry. The continued and improved protection of passenger rights is crucial to ensuring the necessary consumer trust in the transport sector.”

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said: “The pandemic has been incredibly tough for airlines but weakening vital consumer rights protections for millions of holidaymakers is completely the wrong approach to solving the industry’s problems.

“Which? supports greater government support for the industry but the experience of Covid – which has seen refunds for millions of people illegally withheld by airlines and travel firms – has only reinforced the case for reform of travel laws and regulation to strengthen passenger rights and ensure airlines and travel operators face real consequences when they break the rules.”

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