EU to recommend airlines, travel firms offer vouchers valid for at least a year

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU airlines and travel companies should offer vouchers for flights and holidays cancelled due to the coronavirus that are valid for at least 12 months, the European Commission says in recommendations to help revive travel and tourism in Europe.

The recommendations, outlined in a document seen by Reuters and due to be presented on Wednesday, seek to make vouchers attractive to passengers who may otherwise demand full refunds.

EU member states have urged the EU’s executive body to suspend rules forcing airlines to offer full refunds for cancelled flights because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU recommendations fall short of suspending the refund rules, but appear to offer a compromise in a bid to help cash-drained airlines and travel companies.

The Commission will also recommend that vouchers are covered by member states against insolvency, according to the document. The vouchers should also offer the same services and route – in case of a flight – and travel conditions as the original booking.

“Subject to availability and irrespective of any fare or price difference, carriers should ensure that vouchers allow passengers to travel on the same route under the same service conditions as detailed in the original booking; organisers should ensure that vouchers allow travellers to book a package travel contract with the same type of services or of equivalent quality as the terminated package,” the document says.

Airlines across Europe, including Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, have sought state rescues as coronavirus lockdowns have forced them to ground their fleets for more than a month, with no end in sight.

“With a view to limiting the negative impacts on passengers or travellers during the COVID-19 pandemic, member states should actively consider setting up guarantee schemes for vouchers to ensure that in the event of insolvency of the issuer of the voucher, passengers or travellers are reimbursed,” the EU document says.

Customers who end up not using the vouchers, would be automatically reimbursed up to 14 days after the end of the validity period. For vouchers that are valid for more than a year, passengers should be able to ask for a full cash refund until 12 months after the vouchers are issued, according to the document.

“The different economic operators in the transport and travel value chain should cooperate in good faith and strive towards a fair sharing of the burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the document said.

To ease the burden on airlines and travel companies most affected, the EU also called on consumer and passenger organisations at all levels to encourage travellers to accept the vouchers instead of reimbursement.

However, the law that protects customers regarding their travel rights is not suspended and the new guidance is not legally binding, meaning it is up to the consumer to accept a voucher or full cash refund.

Reporting Marine Strauss; Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Susan Fenton

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