The European Commission claimed the deadly viral outbreak counts as an extraordinary circumstance, and as a result will loosen the terms under its passenger rights legislation. Under EU rules, passengers can claim compensation on top of a refund or an alternative flight if aircraft have been grounded with less than two weeks’ notice. But with many European airlines on the brink of collapse, the Brussels-based executive said it “considers that, where public authorities take measures intended to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, such measures are by their nature and origin not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of carriers and are outside their actual control”.
In a statement, it added: “For air, sea and inland waterways there are so-called ‘force majeure clauses’, which exempt carriers for paying compensation for delays or cancellations if caused by extraordinary circumstances.
“Airlines can cancel flights two weeks before the scheduled departure and no compensation is due.”
Commission officials added disruptions to schedules make it virtually impossible to re-route cancelled flights, which airlines are normally obliged to do.
They added: “‘The earliest opportunity’ may under the circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak imply considerable delay, and the same may apply to the availability of concrete information on such ‘opportunity’ given the high level of uncertainty affecting air traffic.”
Brussels, however, warned airlines they would still be responsible for ensuring meals and accommodation are provided for stranded passengers, to up three nights and £94 per day.
“The air carrier is therefor not exempt from all of its obligations on right to care… even during a long period,” the Commission said.
In usual circumstances, passengers could claim up to £563 if their flight was cancelled with less than 14 days’ notice or delayed for three or more hours.
Railways are unaffected by the loosened rules, and will still have to inform passengers in advance of any disruptions and pay compensation for delays.
“Unlike in other transport modes, the existence of extraordinary circumstances… does not affect the right to compensation in cases of delays,” the Commission said.
Lufthansa has grounded 700 of the group’s 763 aircraft and its executive board will take a 20 percent pay cut.
The firm, which also owns Swiss International, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, said last week it was pleading with government for possible rescue packages.
A growing list of airlines have asked their staff to accept drastic measures as they attempt to keep their businesses afloat.
Budget carrier easyJet has frozen pay and asked all crew to take unpaid leave for three months.