Sixteen major airlines including Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, EasyJet, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Ryanair and Vueling have committed to improving compensation rights for passengers whose flights were cancelled due to the pandemic.
The move comes after talks between the companies, the European Commission and the European Consumer Rights Protection Groups (BEUC).
"During the pandemic, airlines have massively violated consumer rights. It’s time to get their picture clear. Many customers across Europe are still waiting for refunds for flights cancelled during the first lockdowns in 2020," says Monique Goyens, CEO of BEUC.
The airlines have also pledged to better inform passengers about their rights.
Among the commitments they made was to clearly distinguish flight cancellations by the airline from flight cancellations by the passenger, and passengers can be given vouchers only if they expressly choose them.
The EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said that by pushing vouchers onto passengers, airlines were acting against the European consumer protection law and that was "unacceptable".
Most of the airlines included in the agreement agreed that unused vouchers from passengers who had to accept them in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic can be reimbursed if the passenger so wishes.
Additionally, passengers who booked their flight through an intermediary and have difficulties getting reimbursement from the intermediary can turn to the airline and request to be refunded directly.
The companies are expected to inform passengers about this possibility and any conditions for requesting a direct refund on their websites.
The airlines' new commitments were welcomed by the EU Commissioner for transport Adina Vălean, who said she was pleased all airlines concerned "have committed to solve the remaining issues".
"This is crucial to restoring passengers' confidence. The recovery of the air transport sector depends on this. This is why we are also currently assessing regulatory options to reinforce passenger protection against future crisis, as foreseen in our Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy,” she added.
The airlines involved in the dialogue were:
Hundreds of flights were cancelled or rescheduled across the EU and elsewhere as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions. Airlines also suffered a huge loss of revenue.