Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (215)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

215. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Transport the consumer rights for persons who have booked flights to green list countries but now find out these countries are on the red list although flights are still operating; if such persons will be allowed to change their flight without being penalised with fees or else receive a voucher for the equivalent amount; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26365/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

In cases where a flight has been booked as part of a package holiday with an Irish licensed travel agent and the country has been moved from the green to red list, the consumer can seek refund under the EU Package Travel Directive 2302 due to "unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances." That should be sought from the travel agent, in the first instance. Such a refund must be made within 14 days. Where a flight has been booked directly with an airline, the relevant legal protections are different and fall under EU Regulation 261, which covers the rights of airline passengers in instances of flight cancellations. Under that Regulation, an airline has 7 days to make a cash refund to its customers when it cancels a flight. However, if a flight goes ahead and a customer either cancels or does not use their ticket, they are not entitled to a refund under EU law, irrespective of the circumstances. That said, I understand that the main Irish airlines have waived flight change fees in circumstances where a flight occurs and people are not able to present because of Government advice, although fare differences and date restrictions may apply.

Evidently, the existing consumer protections and legal obligations on airlines and the broader travel sector did not envisage the current circumstances of mass cancellations and stringent travel restrictions for countries that are not on the 'Green' list. That has, not surprisingly, put the entire system under immense pressure and it is causing real difficulties for people and businesses.

I am mindful that the options put forward by airlines may not be workable for customers in all instances. My colleague the Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton continues to engage with the airlines in respect to consumer rights issues, with calls for the airlines to offer fair and reasonable alternatives to passengers who wish not to travel at this time.

The Deputy will appreciate that there is no mechanism to compel airlines to cancel planned flights or to provide refunds or specific alternatives to refunds when there is no legal requirement to do so.