Ireland asks Europe to suspend law requiring airlines to refund customers for cancellations

The letter is also signed by Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands
Ireland asks Europe to suspend law requiring airlines to refund customers for cancellations
Ryaniar has now emailed customers telling them they have been issued a voucher which "can be used for your future travel plans" within 12 months

Ireland has asked the European Commission to suspend a law requiring airlines to refund customers for cancelled flights.

It is one of 12 countries which signed a letter petitioning the Commission to, instead, allow airlines to give time-limited vouchers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter states such a solution would be "acceptable for consumers" provided it included "a clear right of reimbursement" at the end of the validity period of the voucher.

The move would be designed to prevent mass bankruptcies in European airlines and to encourage people to fly again.

The letter is also signed by Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands, and says airlines are facing "a serious cash flow challenge" due to mass cancellations.

It says the original law, which guarantees customers a refund or re-routing at their earliest convenience, was conceived at a time when "the current global crisis... could not have been foreseen".

It calls on the European Commission "as a matter of urgency" to temporarily suspend the refund guarantee across the European Union and provide time-limited vouchers.

"The goal shared by the European Union and its Member States must now be to preserve the structure of the European air traffic market beyond the current crisis, while considering the interests and necessary protection of passengers," they said.

The prospect of this was mooted by the Department of Transport a month ago. A Department spokesperson said Minister Shane Ross "is considering the credit note as an option in his determination to strike a fair balance between protecting jobs and consumers".

It is likely to cause further frustration among people who are waiting on refunds for cancelled flights from airlines.

This week, Ryanair once again caused frustration among customers seeking refunds for flights cancelled due to the pandemic.

It has now emailed customers telling them they have been issued a voucher which "can be used for your future travel plans" within 12 months, but adds if the voucher is not used, people "will receive a full cash refund".

Despite actually guaranteeing a refund, the airline has still been accused of causing further confusion for customers.

Dermott Jewell, policy and council advisor with the Consumers' Association of Ireland, said Ryanair is "just tinkering around the edge of what are straightforward provisions for consumers under EU law".

"Of course we should consider how those who have chosen to accept a voucher will see benefit in this as it gives further value to that voucher and closure to the issue under those circumstances," he said.

However, there is a clear benefit to the airline in fixing a point of delay in refund as that seeks to allow them to make accounting provisions that suit the business.

"By doing so, it ignores the reality that, with so many unknowns in terms of employment, borrowing and debt, an open option to surrender the voucher at any time to realise real cash value - when cash is needed - would best suit the needs of the consumer and be a fair solution for all."

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