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Probe For Potential Abuse of Air Passenger Rights

The European Court of Auditors (ECA), which monitors European Union spending and management, announced last week that it is launching an audit to assess whether the European Commission took sufficient steps to ensure air passenger rights were upheld during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image - Miguel A. Lopez//EPA

The ECA will also appraise whether emergency aid given to the transport industry by national governments appropriately considered passengers, and whether the current legal framework is fit to safeguard air passenger rights in times of crisis. Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair estimates the total state aid to airlines approved by Brussels since the beginning of the pandemic at more than €30 billion.

“In times of COVID-19, the EU and member states have had to strike a balance between preserving air passenger rights and supporting the ailing airlines,” said Annemie Turtelboom, the ECA Member leading the audit. “Our audit will check that the rights of millions of air travellers in the EU were not collateral damage in the fight to save struggling airlines.”

The EU auditors’ report is expected to be released in summer. Part of its aim is to help “restore trust in aviation” according to an ECA statement. The ECA will specifically look into national governments’ decision to allow airlines flexibility on whether to offer vouchers rather than refunds to passengers. Several national governments backed down from their demand for full refunds following industry complaints over the financial toll this would bring. The European Commission issued guidelines and recommendations at the time, stating that offering vouchers does not affect the passengers’ entitlement to a cash refund, but the ECA contends that passengers were often pressured by airlines to accept vouchers in lieu of cash. “In other cases, airlines did not refund passengers on time or not at all,” said the ECA.

Above and Below - Lufthansa and Air France, in common with most airlines, have both received significant financial support from governments to see them through the downturn in travel