Germany sanctions airline refund vouchers

Germany has suspended the requirement for airlines to refund customers for cancelled flights, ignoring EU regulations on air passenger rights in favour of keeping carriers afloat.

The coronavirus crisis committee of the federal government suspended the repayment rules during “this highly exceptional situation”.

In a statement, the government gave directions that: “Direct repayments [by airlines] be made only in cases of hardship.

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“In all other cases, customers shall receive vouchers valid until 31 December 2021. Customers not redeeming the voucher by that date shall then receive a refund.”

EU Regulation 261 on air passenger rights requires airlines pay refunds on cancellations within seven days

The Netherlands government had already suspended the requirement for immediate refunds “for a limited period of time”, noting: “The behaviour of the airlines is not in line with Regulation EC 261.”

The government instructed the Dutch regulator “not to enforce the obligation to repay” where an airline issues vouchers instead, on condition: “a) the vouchers are valid for a maximum of 12 months, b) passengers are paid the unused portion of the vouchers after the vouchers have expired and c) the initiative to pay out lies with the airline”.

The Dutch policy change was backdated to March 1 and applies until June 30, with the government to consider “whether an extension is necessary”.

The Board of Airline Representatives in Germany (BARIG) suggested the regulatory change “will benefit customers and the aviation industry”.

BARIG secretary-general Michael Hoppe said: “We count on the EU to implement this regulation quickly for all of Europe.”

UK carriers continue to lobby the British government for similar action.

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