Crisis-hit EU airlines seek 'more balanced' passenger rights

The airlines also indicated they plan to contest air traffic control fee increases agreed by EU governments last month

  
An Air France airplane takes off at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, August 26, 2018. Image used for illustrative purpose.

An Air France airplane takes off at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, August 26, 2018. Image used for illustrative purpose.

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS- European airlines said on Thursday they will seek to weaken passenger compensation and refund rights in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which left the industry struggling to reimburse billions of euros in fares for grounded flights.

Airlines for Europe (A4E), which represents the region's biggest carriers, said the so-called EU261 regulation had severely exacerbated the financial crisis for many airlines.

"We're looking for a more balanced approach to consumer protection," Air France-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith said, adding that the European Union's passenger rights law was "one of the most punitive" in the world.

EU rules grant consumers immediate cash refunds for cancelled flights, plus compensation for those scrapped with less than two weeks' notice or for delays of over three hours. Multibillion-euro refund bills exacerbated the cash crunch for many airlines early in the pandemic. 

"When events like mass cancellations get put in place this law is not flexible enough to handle such events," Smith said at an A4E virtual news conference, joined by the heads of easyJet, IAG, Lufthansa and Ryanair.

A European Commission spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The airlines also indicated they plan to contest air traffic control fee increases agreed by EU governments last month to make up the effective monopoly service providers' crisis shortfall, with easyJet's CEO hinting at legal action.

"We are going to legally try this," said Johan Lundgren, who is the current A4E chairman. "Amazingly these monopoly air navigation service providers are being allowed to pass on 5.4 billion euros to airlines and to our customers," he said.

(Reporting by Laurence Frost, Sarah Young and Marine Strauss Editing by Mark Heinrich) ((laurence.frost@thomsonreuters.com; +33 1 4949 5683 @Laurence_Frost DMs on; Reuters Messaging: N/A))

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