What are your rights in the event of a flight cancellation?
Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

With the busy holiday season fast approaching, there will no doubt be

Earlier this week Ryanair caused outrage among its customers after it appeared to row back on plans to offer them a refund for cancelled flights by offering a voucher for 12 months instead. 

So is this legal and what can customers do?

What’s the law?

The law around cancelled flights is quite clear and hasn’t changed as a result of Covid-19. 

Under EU rules, if your flight is cancelled you have the right to ONE of the following:

1. A full refund of the cost of your flight within seven days by the original method of payment

2. Being placed on another flight to your destination at the earliest opportunity or,

3. A re-routing at a later date at your own convenience subject to the availability of seats

In addition, if your flight gets cancelled and you were given less than two weeks’ notice, you may also be entitled to compensation. 

Given the fact that air travel has pretty much ground to a standstill, options two and three above aren’t going to be much use to travellers right now. As a result, most people are asking for a refund. However, airlines seem to be trying to circumvent the rules by getting people to take a voucher instead.

However the key point for consumers to remember is that you’re still legally entitled to a refund and therefore you don’t have to accept a voucher, regardless of what your airline is saying, if you don't want to. In fact the EU Commission issued a statement on 13th May clarifying this and has now threatened legal action against countries that do not enforce the rules.

The above rules apply to all flights that are operated within the EU or that depart from the EU. If your flight arrives into the EU from outside the EU and is operated by an EU airline the rules also apply. 

Why are airlines asking consumers to accept a voucher?

With the travel industry completely shut down, some airlines are losing over a million dollars a day and are burning through their cash reserves. So the last thing they want to do is to start issuing refunds. And although Ryanair and Aer Lingus owner IAG are well capitalized with healthy cash reserves, for now, there is a limit to how much financial pain they can take. As a result, getting people to accept vouchers seems to be part of a strategy to maintain cashflow and help keep the airlines afloat in the short to medium term.  

Therefore it’s possible to feel some sympathy for the airlines. After all, when the EU introduced the compensation rules for consumers several years ago, it wasn’t with a pandemic like Covid-19 in mind. Plus if Ryanair or Aer Lingus were to collapse it could prove detrimental to the Irish economy. 

However if airlines want us to feel sympathy for them and accept their vouchers, then they should really offer something extra to sweeten the deal. Aer Lingus has been offering customers an extra 10% with their voucher, which is a start at least. However longer expiry dates on the vouchers, say five years, as well as allowing the voucher to be fully transferable to another person for free should also be a given.     

I want a refund, what should I do?

If you want a refund then you’ll need to persevere with the airline in question, whether it be by webchat, email or phone. 

Although the rules state the refund must be processed within seven days, this is definitely not going to be met in the current climate. However your refund request should get actioned eventually. But we're talking weeks and not days.

Who oversees the rules?

These rules are overseen and enforced in Ireland by the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

If you feel you're getting nowhere with your airline, you can lodge a complaint with the commission. However given the nature of the pandemic and the effect it's having on airlines in particular, it remains to be seen how hard they’ll come down on airlines.

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Have you had trouble getting a refund from your airline? Do you think it's feasible to expect everyone to get a refund given the current climate? 

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