EU auditors probe the protection of air passenger rights during COVID-19 crisis

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The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has launched an audit to assess whether the European
Commission has been safeguarding effectively the rights of citizens who travelled by plane or
booked flights during the coronavirus crisis. The auditors will examine whether the current
rules on air passenger rights are fit for purpose and resilient enough to deal with such a crisis.
They will check whether the Commission monitored that air passengers’ rights were respected
during the pandemic and took action accordingly. In addition, they will assess whether
Member States took passenger rights into account when granting emergency state aid to the
travel and transport industry.

“In times of COVID-19, the EU and Member States have had to strike a balance between
preserving air passenger rights and supporting the ailing airlines,” says Annemie Turtelboom, the
ECA Member leading the audit. “Our audit will check that the rights of millions of air travellers in
the EU were not collateral damage in the fight to save struggling airlines.”
The COVID-19 outbreak and health measures taken in response have brought about major travel
disruption: airlines cancelled around 70 % of all flights and new bookings plummeted. People no
longer could or wished to travel, also because of the frequently uncoordinated emergency
measures by different countries, such as flight bans, last-minute border closures or quarantine
requirements.

EU Member States introduced further emergency measures to keep their struggling transport
industry afloat, including airlines, for example by granting them unprecedented amounts of state
aid. Some estimates show that throughout the crisis, until December 2020, airlines – including
non-EU ones – had obtained or were obtaining up to €37.5 billion in state aid. In addition, twelve
Member States notified the Commission of state aid measures to prop up their tour operators
and travel agencies to the tune of some €2.6 billion.

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