European Airlines Finally Agree To Refund Customers For Flights Cancelled During The Pandemic

At the start of the pandemic airlines were cancelling flights – and keeping customers’ money. The U.S. Department of Transportation generally forced U.S. airlines to provide refunds, and pursued foreign carriers too.

E.U. consumer protection, generally thought to be stronger than in the U.S., came down on the side of the customer – but couldn’t actually do anything about it. European airlines have been stealing passenger money for 18 months.

Lufthansa, for instance, accepted refund requests and then just didn’t give customers back their money. Then they came up with something more creative to avoid refunding customers for cancelled flights: they argued a counterfactual, that they’d have refused boarding to the customer due to Covid if they had not cancelled the flight, therefore no refund is due.

By the way this was after the airline got a $10 billion bailout. It was Germany against both passengers and taxpayers.

Now 16 European airlines have agreed to return the money including Air France-KLM, British Airways, easyJet, Lufthansa, Ryanair, and TAP Air Portugal.

“In the early phase of the pandemic, some airlines pushed vouchers on passengers,” Didier Reynders, European commissioner for justice, said in a statement. “They were acting against EU consumer protection rules. That was unacceptable,” he said.

European airlines also promise to do a better job informing customers of their rights before violating those rights next time. Airlines will not pay interest on the money they’ve held.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Outrageous!

    Say what you will, US DOT got consumers their money back earlier/better than others.

  2. However they are still not providing EU261/2004 compensation for flights cancelled within 15 days of departure.

  3. I received my refund immediately from Iberia. No questions asked, ten minutes on the phone. This was well before my family and friends got their money back from US airlines. Guess it depends on the airline rather than the EU, necessarily.

  4. TAP cancelled 1 segment of a multi-segment itinerary. They charged 40 Euro to re-issue the ticket so that my cancelled flight could be dropped, to give me the privilege of buying a new ticket on another airline to connect to the rest of my journey on TAP!

  5. Kenya Airways is a nightmare:
    – in Dec’19 confirmed they would refund 1x business GVA-CPT-GVA within the next 30-days, for trip early Feb”20 due to my mistake in the date; based upon their confirmation a new ticket has been purchased and travel completed early Feb’20. After 6-months complaining I have not received refudning, the inform that due to Covid they would issue a voucher, which I never received.
    – Had 3x business GVA-MRU-GVA for May’20, flights cancelled, I have contacted KQ on various opportunities, always informed they would get back to me in the coming weeks … well nothing.
    Conclusion: 4x interncontinental buisness class tickets lots … oups!

  6. We had tickets on KLM, which we bought here in Thailand, where we live, for travel in April 2020. We got vouchers which we have been unable to use and certainly can’t use in the next 6 months or more. Will KLM ever give us a refund or are we stuck with the vouchers, potentially for years into the future?

  7. I bought a fully refundable business class ticket on AF in March 2020 when AF had a huge discounted sale on those. Eventually I figured the trip wasn’t gonna happen so I requested a refund from AF. They accepted but the refund did not show up within the time frame DOT allots for credit card refunds. I filed a complaint with DOT (pretty useless as I eventually figured out) and a bit later, since I was still within the proper period, opened a chargeback via Chase.
    Chase gave me a temporary credit but overall ended up way less on my side than I expected. They did not care the tickets were fully refundable. Apparently they don’t really have authority to rule on chargebacks. They sent the documents to AF’s bank but plainly told me that if they don’t pay, I’m SOL. It took I think another two months before things cleared out and the temporary credit became permanent.
    It’s surprising to see that DOT turned out more consumer friendly than EU agencies and of course the excuses the airlines come up with are absolutely pathetic.

  8. This is helpful information. we have two TAP vouchers that we haven’t used. How do we request that they issue refunds instead?

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