Planes at Orly airport, July 19, 2020 - JP PARIENTE / SIPA
- Despite the deconfinement, air traffic is struggling to recover. Flights continue to be canceled, in particular for economic reasons.
- Very weakened due to the stoppage of flights, airlines are reluctant to reimburse passengers whose flights have been or are canceled. An illegal practice.
- 20 Minutes takes stock of the obligations of airlines.
Patatras. They thought they would forget the coronavirus by taking off from the airport, but now it catches up with them: despite the deconfinement, many individuals learn of the cancellation of their flight. This is the case of Anne-Laëtitia, who has seen no less than three of her Paris-Naples scheduled for June, July and August canceled by the same company. In question: mysterious “operational reasons” on which it did not succeed in obtaining the slightest precision.
Since the end of containment, air traffic has remained unstable. If, in absolute terms, flights can be canceled for health reasons, other reasons now explain them. “With tourism resuming, we cannot say that the cancellations are completely linked to Covid-19. Sometimes there are economic reasons that also push companies to cancel their flights, ”explains Pauline Bérino, legal expert for Flightright, a company that supports ticket compensation claims.
Immediate refunds not always guaranteed
Economic or health reasons, the rule is the same anyway: European regulations require airlines, in the event of cancellation of a flight and lack of a new itinerary, to leave the choice to consumers between reimbursing the ticket. plane or the granting of a credit. In the case of the pandemic, it is impossible for airlines to escape their responsibilities.
In the first case, the reimbursement period is seven days. But currently, this obligation is far from being respected. Affected by cash flow problems because of the pandemic, airlines "agree to reimburse their passengers but suspending payment until an indefinite date, or even after the end of the health crisis", noted in May the association of UFC-Que Choisir consumers. "The current crisis, however, leads many companies to defer these reimbursements (in disregard of passenger rights)", also notes Air Indemnités.
@TUI_France 3 months after the cancellation of my flight for covid and still no news from you (no refund or have or even a small information email)- Arifi (@ Arifi34261933) July 20, 2020
Pauline Bérino notes an improvement, however, now that the activity of airlines has resumed and also under pressure from passengers, more and more aware of their rights. “Some companies are starting to reimburse but the seven days are rarely respected,” she emphasizes.
To be reimbursed, in the absence of a reimbursement request form available on airline websites, you must "express your choice and have proof of the option chosen." Sending a registered letter always helps, ”she continues. Legal action, via a conciliator or a lawyer, then being "the second step".
The problem is that passengers are sometimes diverted from this immediate refund option by being automatically assigned a credit note. "Some companies make consumers believe that the particular pandemic situation would allow them to offer only a voucher", also details UFC-Que Choisir. The consumer defense association has assigned twenty airlines, from Air France to Ryanair via Vueling, for such practices.
It is also fighting to assert the rights of consumers who have seen their trip (transport and accommodation for example) canceled by a travel agency. A case in which the rules are different, since a French ordinance authorized them - in contradiction with a European directive - to then offer a credit note instead of reimbursement in order to avoid cascading bankruptcies.
If you are not sensitive to the plea of airlines who implore to opt for the vouchers to relieve their cash flow, "you should not use your assets and clearly show your refusal", advises Pauline Bérino, of Flightright. She advises to prefer the refund to the voucher because in the second case, the companies do not always communicate on its conditions of use. A classic trap then consists of not being able to be reimbursed for the difference between booking a new flight cheaper than the value of the voucher. Another risk is that of the bankruptcy of the airline, in which case it will be impossible to recover its due.
To convince you to opt for a credit note, some companies however offer to increase these vouchers compared to the initial price of the ticket purchased, following the recommendations of the European Commission. What, perhaps, to weigh the pros and cons differently.
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Coronavirus: Is the resumption of air traffic in Europe premature?
What right to compensation?
Compensation is to be distinguished from simple reimbursement. In the event of a cancellation less than fifteen days before the date of the flight, it is possible to claim compensation. However, this is not automatic. "It will be necessary to analyze flight by flight whether the destination was effectively blocked or not", explains Pauline Bérino. Airlines may be tempted to evoke “extraordinary circumstances” to exempt themselves from compensation, but without the pretext being really established.