Europe blocks Dutch plan to let airlines give vouchers for canceled flights

Planes parked at Schiphol, 25 March 2020
Planes parked at Schiphol, 25 March 2020Politiehelikopter, @DePolitieheliTwitter

Airlines are only allowed to give vouchers in return for a canceled flight if the passenger agrees. If not, the canceled ticket must be refunded, European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean said. With that she threw a spanner in the works of Dutch Infrastructure Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen's plan to allow airlines to compensate passengers with vouchers.

Mona Keijzer, the State Secretary for Economic Affairs in the Netherlands, responded by asking the public to accept the vouchers as a way of supporting the embattled travel industry.

In the event of a flight cancelation, passengers with a separate ticket are usually entitled to an alternative flight or a refund. Earlier this week Van Nieuwenhuizen said she wants to temporarily allow refunds to happen in the form of airline vouchers, due to the outbreak of Covid-19. She pointed out that due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, airlines have hardly any alternative flights to offer and have too little cash to compensate all affected passengers.

In Van Nieuwenhuizen's plan, vouchers must be valid for a maximum of 12 months. And customers will get their money back if they did not use the voucher in that period.

European Commissioner Valean did not specifically mention the Dutch proposal, but her statement made clear that customers are not obliged to accept a voucher.

But by taking the voucher, Keijzer wrote in a brief for parliament, "They thus support the travel industry and can still enjoy their intended holiday at a later time."

Dutch consumers' association Consumentenbond was also critical of the voucher system. The association pointed out that passengers will be left empty handed if the airline goes bankrupt. "We realize that circumstances require special measures. But in this form, consumers come off too badly," Consumentenbond director Sandra Molenaar said to AD.