COVID Flight Vouchers: The Latest On Policies, Eligibility & Use
When COVID hit and travel ceased (practically overnight), many airlines resorted to vouchers and trip credits to compensate travelers for cancelled flights. With policies around eligibility and use varying by airline and country, we asked members of L2B Aviation’s attorney network for an update on what’s happening in their jurisdiction.
The European Commission issued guidance early in April that vouchers need only be issued on a voluntary basis, which means it’s up to the passenger to decide. However, after a wave of cancellations flooded the market, thousands of inbound claims were received. In fact, the volume was so high that additional attorneys were hired to sort through and handle everything.
Understandably, this was a hot topic in Spain all throughout last spring into summer/fall — especially in connection with cancelled flights. Since then, it’s died down a bit since those who were offered a voucher have either accepted it or not. There are certain lingering lawsuits with more complicated and controversial cases; however, once the airlines re-structured their flight programs, there weren’t any more cancellations (and, thus, vouchers) simply because they weren’t flying anymore.
Airlines in Portugal did — and are still doing — their best to push out vouchers as much as possible. If a claim is not filed, they are still trying to have the passenger accept the voucher on a voluntary basis. For package travel, there was a law enacted in April 2020 that made it mandatory for the clients to accept the voucher (with exceptions if the individual is unemployed), being said vouchers protected against insolvency by guarantee of the Portuguese Travel and Tourism Guarantee Fund (financed by the Travel Agencies). After several complaints by consumer protection associations and a formal notice from the EU Commission, the Portuguese government later revoked that law as a breach of EU directive on package travel holidays.
In Q1 2021, the Italian Competition Authority (ICA) officially ended its investigation of possible passenger rights violations, investigations that had started when certain domestic and foreign airlines decided to issue vouchers to passengers instead of issuing reimbursements “at a time and for destinations where the governmental lockdown measures did no longer apply.”
In the Middle East…
At the outset of the pandemic, there was not a voucher right listed in mandatory legislation; however, certain airlines began proposing and/or issuing them as part of their own initiative. Later on, the legislator amended the Law (temporarily) to allow airlines the ability to offer passengers an alternative flight ticket or voucher instead of a refund, subject to the full written consent of the passenger. The voucher must be at a value equal to at least the amount paid for the cancelled flight ticket and assignable from one person to another (i.e., it could not be limited to a specific passenger). Additionally, the voucher must be valid for at least one year, and if it has not been redeemed, the passenger has the right to demand a full refund of the amount paid for the original flight ticket. The temporary amendment regarding vouchers will expire at the beginning of July 2021.
In South America…
In Brazil — for flights between March 19, 2020 and October 31, 2021 — passengers have the right to select credit or reimbursement. If it’s the latter, airlines have up to 12 months to reimburse passengers, with contractual penalties applicable. If a passenger chooses credit, the credit amount must be equal to or higher than the ticket value. Passengers have 18 months from the date of the credit concession to redeem it. The credit must be provided within 7 days from the request date. Such rules do not apply if a passenger gives up the flight within at least 7 days in advance of the departure date provided that such request is made within 24 hours after the date which the passenger acquired the ticket. In those situations, general rules of air transport prevail.In case of flight changes, airlines must inform passengers at least 24 hours in advance. Airlines must offer total reimbursement to passengers or reallocation to other flights in case of flight changes or delays of more than 30 minutes for domestic flights or 1 hour for international flights.
Keep a close eye on future L2B Aviation articles (and our LinkedIn profile) for updates on the ever-evolving topic of vouchers — as well as other relevant aviation legal topics. As always, if you have any questions for a specific attorney quoted in this article (or other attorneys in the network), don’t hesitate to reach out. You can find contact information for the respective attorneys under the “Locations” tab of the site.