16 European airlines agree to faster passenger refunds for canceled flights
You might be eligible for a faster refund if you had a flight canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After talks with the European Commission and Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC), a group of 16 European airlines finally agreed to clear their refund backlogs and only issue flight vouchers when passengers choose them over a cash refund. According to the Commission, many of these airlines' refund backlogs are now cleared and that those due a refund will now be paid within 7 days, per EU law.
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Airlines involved with the talks include Aegean Airlines, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, EasyJet, Eurowings, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Ryanair, TAP Portugal, Vueling and Wizz Air.
The airlines also agreed to better inform travelers when they cancel flights. The Commission notes that airlines now have to more clearly distinguish flights canceled by the passenger and flights canceled by the airline. In the case of flights canceled by the airline, airlines must offer rerouting or a refund in cash and can offer a voucher option if they'd like.
Another interesting thing from the report: European passengers who book flights through an "intermediary" can now request refunds directly from the airline if they have trouble obtaining a refund from the intermediary. This should make getting refunded a lot easier when booking through an Online Travel Agency (OTA).
According to the Commission, this is the largest CPC action in the organization's history.
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Will this make it easier for me to get a refund for a canceled flight?
It depends on where you're flying to/from, and the airline you're flying to your destination.
European Union Regulation (EC) 261/2004 on air passenger rights largely dictates when a traveler is subject to a refund or other compensation due to a flight cancellation or other mishap. This applies to nearly all intra-Europe flights regardless of carrier, and select flights to/from Europe.
Specifically, it covers flights starting in the EU or a flight operated by an EU carrier and all flights departing Europe, regardless of the carrier. An EU carrier is an airline headquartered in the EU. So, if you're booked on an Air France flight from the U.S. to Europe and your flight is canceled, you should be eligible for a timely cash refund under these regulations. But if your flight is operated by United, you're subject to U.S. regulations.
If you're still awaiting a refund from an EU airline, it's worth reaching out again and asking for a cash refund. Nowdays, it should come quickly after this CPC action.
Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list of major carriers
This news is great for travelers waiting for refunds for canceled European flights during the coronavirus pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, airlines canceled thousands of flights due to low demand and ongoing border closures. This left many travelers with flight vouchers instead of cash refunds, effectively locking up customer funds until travel reopened.
I'd like to see stricter regulations be put into place here in the States. While airlines are required to refund passengers when the airline cancels flight, it's often a long process that could lead to it taking months to get your money back. Requiring refunds to be processed within 7 days puts pressure on the airlines to actually follow through with refunds without dragging out the process.
Plus, these regulations can be good for the airlines too. When a customer knows they are eligible for a cash refund in case of a flight cancellation, they may be more likely to book airfare during these uncertain travel times.
Feature photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images