Consumer Protection: Travel disturbances due to Covid-19
In terms of EU law, in the event of denied boarding or cancellation consumers are to be granted the choice between re-routing and a refund of the ticket price. Re-routing should be offered under comparable transportconditions to the consumer’s final destination at the earliest opportunity or rebooking at a later date at the consumer’s convenience at no additional cost. Alternatively, a refund of the ticket price should be offered and, where relevant, a free journey back to the point where the consumer started his or her journey at the earliest opportunity (this applies also to long delay at departure in excess of five hours). The airline has no further obligation of care once the consumer has accepted a refund.
As for compensation, consumers are entitled to compensation unless they were informed of the cancellation at least 14 days before the flight, they were re-routed close to the original times, or if the airline can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, no compensation is due where the flight was cancelled more than two weeks before departure and consumers are offered rerouting within certain time frames, or when the consumer’s delay in arriving to his or her final destination is less than three hours, or when the cancellation or delay is due to extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, in a nutshell, when a flight is cancelled, the Air Passenger Rights Regulations stipulate that the airline must offer its passengers a choice between a voucher to be used within a reasonable time-frame and a refund. In these cases, as the cancellation of the flight would be required due to extraordinary circumstances, the additional compensation for inconvenience suffered does not apply.
While in the current extraordinary circumstances, consumers are encouraged to be flexible and to whenever possible opt for vouchers, those consumers for whom vouchers are not a viable option, may request a refund.
If the airline does not communicate with its customers to provide them with the above mentioned remedies, customers are then are advised to write to the concerned airline with their request and if they fail to receive a reply within a reasonable time, they may then lodge a complaint to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority(MCCAA).
If due to the COVID-19 outbreak, travel-package holidayshave been either cancelled or significantly altered, then as per the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations, consumers have the right to terminate the package travel contract without paying any termination fee. In these circumstances, consumers are being encouraged to discuss with their travel agent about the possibility of postponing their holiday to a later date. In situations, where such postponement is not a viable option, consumers may insist on a full refund of the money paid for the package holiday. If the request for refund is denied, consumers may lodge an official complaint with the MCCAA.
In such cases of travel-package holidays, package organizersare to refund consumers without undue delay and not later than 14 days after the package travel contract is terminated. However, this fourteen-day limit does not apply when the package termination occurred or occurs between the 1st of March 2020 and 31st May 2020 (both dates included). In such instances the refund shall be paid by the package organizer by not later than 6 months, from the date that the package travel contract was terminated.
Furthermore, the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) has issued guidelines relevant to travel insurance policies, stipulating that if holidays, flights or other arrangements have been cancelled, the consumer may need to try and recover cancellation costs from the respective travel agent, travel airline or travel supplier, prior to bringing forth a claim on travel and insurance policy.
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