With thousands of people tragically losing their lives to the pandemic that is Coronavirus, holidaymakers and airlines have understandably been worried about a further spread – and in recent weeks the travel industry has been left reeling, with countless flight cancellations and queries concerning refunds and flight delay compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004.
Airlines such as British Airways, easyJet and Wizz Air have all cancelled flights and it only looks set to get worse.
Recently, Italy has been in the spotlight; the owner of IAG, the parent company of British Airways, has noted a “significant fall-off in demand in Italy“. One airline has reported a fall in flight bookings to Italy of 108%.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a grave warning, stating, “It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
Passengers with air travel booked are wondering what their rights under EU Regulation 261/2004 are in a public health emergency like this one, and whether they are entitled to a refund and flight delay compensation for a coronavirus-related cancellation.
Coby Benson, Flight Delay Compensation Solicitor at Bott and Co has listed what flight rights passengers have in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak:
If a flight leaving the EU is cancelled
The flight will be covered by EC Regulation No. 261/2004 and regardless of when the flight is cancelled, the passenger is entitled to the option of:
- A full refund; or
- A free replacement flight to their final destination, even if it’s with a different airline (This is useful if another airline has chosen to still operate to the final destination); or
- A free replacement flight at a later date, subject to availability of seats (This means the passenger can choose any future date to fly again, perhaps once the travel restrictions have been lifted).
NB: This is all to be claimed from and paid for by the operating air carrier, not the company that sold the ticket.
If the flight is scheduled for a future but imminent date and airlines are still waiting to see what the official advice is
The advice is the same as above.
If the trip involves a connecting flight through a banned area
The rights apply to getting to the ‘final destination’.
For example, if a passenger was due to fly from Heathrow to Shanghai and then Shanghai to Sydney and the flight from Heathrow was cancelled, then the operating air carrier will still be obliged to get them to Sydney or provide a refund, if the passenger prefers.
If a cancelled flight and a connecting flight are booked separately
The customer would not be entitled to a refund of the latter. It only applies to connecting flights booked together. If they book two flights separately then the operating air carrier has no responsibility for the subsequent flights.
If the flight is not cancelled but the passenger is concerned about travelling to or through an at-risk area E.g. Rome or Venice
Unfortunately in these circumstances the passenger has no right to a refund or replacement flight (Unless of course they happened to have purchased a flexible ticket that allows changes or cancellation).
What’s the usual refund process via third party booking platforms?
If the passenger wishes to enforce their rights under the EU Regulation then they should contact the operating air carrier – it has nothing to do with the agent at that point.
Section 75 applies to claims for breach of contract or misrepresentation and is unlikely to apply in this situation (In any event the rights under EU Reg 261/2004 are far more generous).
If the refund is being claimed under EC Reg 261/2004 then there’s no doubt about it, it should come from the operating air carrier.
You can read the Bott and Co Coronavirus Business continuity plan here.