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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Air Belgium suspends flights. What about passengers’ money?

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As reported by the Polish Chamber of Tourism on Monday, the Belgian airline Air Belgium announced its decision to discontinue all transport from October 3, 2023. This is a problem for passengers because the airline does not refund travel costs, which, according to the European Association of Travel Agencies and Tour Operators, is contrary to the law.

Air Belgium has submitted an application to initiate recovery proceedings. This is a legal mechanism whose aim is to freeze the debt and negotiate the terms of repayment within five years. The Polish Chamber of Tourism reports that “Belgian media suggest that if the airline obtains court consent to implement such a plan, passengers will have to wait up to a year for a refund.”

– Passengers and travel agencies are struggling with the impact of this sudden news and feel consternation because Air Belgium is not refunding the cost of their reservations in the IATA billing system (inter-airline billing system – editor’s note). Once again, the airline has suspended the refund process, and travel agencies must transfer further fees for future flights, although they have already been canceled – comments Paweł Niewiadomski, President of the Polish Chamber of Tourism. – This blatant disregard for passengers’ rights is contrary to the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation (261/2004), which states that passengers are entitled to a refund of their costs within seven days of the date of flight cancellation – he adds.

Air Belgium plane.Luciano de la Rosa/Shutterstock

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Financial burden on consumers and distortion of competition

Frank Oostdam, president of the European Travel Agencies and Tour Operators Association (ECTAA), referring to the case, noted that over 140 airlines have gone bankrupt since 2017.

“The financial difficulties and subsequent cessation of an airline’s operations constitute a serious problem that exposes consumers to significant inconvenience and imposes a financial burden on them,” Oostdam said.

“Passengers who have booked package tours are much better protected, but this leaves tour operators, many of them small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in a difficult position. Tour operators must provide their customers with replacement tickets at short notice, which usually are much more expensive, without receiving refunds for canceled flights,” the Chamber notes in a message sent to the TVN24 Biznes editorial office.

– Such distortion of competition in the tourism industry has far-reaching consequences and is harmful to consumers. These urgent issues need to be addressed immediately in the upcoming revisions of the Package Travel Directive and in passenger rights legislation. European Commission must take quick and specific actions to protect the rights and interests of passengers and travel agencies – comments Paweł Niewiadomski.

Main photo source: Luciano de la Rosa/Shutterstock

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