In an effort to mitigate the economic impacts of Covid-19, the European Commission (the Commission) has published guidelines to ensure EU passenger rights- whether they travel by air, bus, rail, ship, or coach, are known to passengers and are applied in a coherent manner across the European Union (the EU).
What is the Purpose of the Guidelines?
In the face of Covid-19 outbreak, Member States have introduced different national measures, including travel restrictions and border controls in a bid to control the spread. In the light of massive cancellations and delays of travels, these guidelines serve to provide legal certainty on how the passenger rights apply amid Covid-19.
These guidelines aim to be interpretative to assist in clarifying how certain provisions of the EU passenger rights legislation apply in this unprecedented situation and to help passengers, the industry and national authorities, with important passenger travel restrictions imposed by national governments and knock-on effects on transport services across the EU.
By introducing clarity, the guidelines are also expected to help reduce costs for the transport sector, which is heavily affected by the outbreak. The guidelines provide legal information for passengers as well as carriers.
These guidelines provide guidance with respect to legislation on:
This article will focus on the rights of air passengers in the EU.
What do the Guidelines Propose?
The above-mentioned regulations provide for a right to choose between reimbursement and rerouting in case of cancellation or delays. However, as regards re-routing, the circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak make this choice difficult as carriers may find it impossible to re-route the passenger to the intended destination at the ‘earliest opportunity’ due to travel restrictions of Member States.
However, when the passengers cannot travel or want to cancel a trip on their own initiative, the EU regulations do not regulate such situations. Whether or not a passenger is reimbursed in such cases depends on the type of ticket (reimbursable, possibility to rebook) as specified in the carrier's terms and conditions.
Additionally, some Member States imposed obligations on carriers to provide voucher or reimbursements for passenger who could not take a flight due to Covid-19 which was operated which do not fall under the scope of the EU passenger rights regulations and apply independently to these regulations.
Air Passenger Rights
1. Right to information
The relevant regulation on air passenger rights do not specifically regulate passengers’ right to information. However, rights to compensation in case of cancellation are linked to the carrier failing to give notice sufficiently in advance.
2. Right to Reimbursement or Re-routing
In case of cancellation of travel by an aeroplane by a carrier, no matter what the reason is, the following choice has to be offered by the operating carrier to the passenger for:
Regarding reimbursement, if the passenger books the outbound flight and the return flight separately and the outbound flight is cancelled, the passenger is only entitled to reimbursement of the cancelled flight, i.e. the outbound flight.
However, in case the outbound and the return flights are part of the same booking, passengers should be offered two options if the outbound flight is cancelled even if the flights are operated by different airlines, namely;
In relation to re-routing, as mentioned above, given the uncertainty of the circumstances of Covid-19 on the traffic and restrictions and the limited forecast on the timelines and the opportunities available, ‘the earliest opportunity’ as regards continuation of the journey or re-routing may mean considerable delay.
In case a passenger opts for re-routing instead of reimbursement, the carrier has an obligation to inform the passenger of delays and/or uncertainties linked to choosing re-routing. Once the relevant carrier informs the passenger the flight available for rerouting, as soon as possible and in good time, the carrier is considered to be in compliance with its information obligation.
3. Right to Care
Additionally, passengers affected by a flight cancellation must also be offered care by the operating airline, free of charge such as meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation if necessary, and transport to the place of accommodation.
However, it should be noted that when the passengers choose reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket, the right to care does not apply as this right survives only as long as passengers have to wait for a rerouting at the earliest convenience
4. Right to Compensation
The regulation provides for right to compensation in certain circumstances. However, passenger whose trips are cancelled 14 days in advance or due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken are not entitled to compensations.
The guidelines consider that such extraordinary circumstances should be interpreted as not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of carriers and are outside their actual control.
This condition should be considered fulfilled, where public authorities prohibit certain flights or ban the movement of persons in a manner that excludes flights to be operated.
The EU is the only area where the passengers are protected with full set of passenger rights. These guidelines aim to ensure that air passenger rights are protected and applied in a coordinated manner across the EU.
Full guidelines on passenger rights can be found here.
 Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91.