October 1, 2020

The chaos in the return of plane tickets threatens to collapse the courts




Consumers’ battle with airlines over canceled flights during the pandemic has intensified during the summer. The restrictions imposed on the airline sector by the outbreaks of the coronavirus have unleashed a new avalanche of cancellations, lor that it has added even more complaints before the commercial courts of the big cities. And while, the extrajudicial mechanism that the Government promised in spring to expedite the resolution of these cases remains unspecified.

The law stipulates that airlines must report to the passenger that before a cancellationYou can choose between a ticket refund or a redeemable voucher. And in the event that the consumer chooses the return, the airline must reimburse the amount within a maximum period of seven days.

The airlines have asked consumers for patience, assuring that many of them would be doomed to bankruptcy if they faced the refunds within the deadline stipulated by law. According to data from the international employers’ association in the sector, IATA (International Air Transport Association), these companies must return about 35,000 million dollars (about 30,000 million euros) to their passengers. This situation has caused a conflict that continues today, since although some airlines have begun to return the tickets, others do everything possible to delay the process.

According to data from the Reclamador.es association -which has handled 4,000 complaints related to this matter- to which this newspaper has had access, Norwegian, easyJet and Lufthansa are the most agile airlines when it comes to returning the amount of the ticket. They take between 15 days and three months. By cons, others companies offer only the bonus and in some cases they end up rejecting the return.

With the refusal of the airlines, consumers often turn to other avenues. One of them is the commercial courts, which were already saturated before the start of the pandemic and which are now close to collapse. Sources of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) They assure that the complaints filed in court for this matter have not yet been accounted for, but recognize that they have grown remarkably.

There has also been a notable increase in claims made to the State Air Safety Agency (AESA). The agency, dependent on Transport, received some 26,000 complaints between April and June alone, almost 11,000 more than during the entire first half of 2019.

Not only has the problem not been solved, it is getting worse. Faced with the outbreaks of the coronavirus and government restrictions, cancellations have soared, which according to the lawyer and legal co-director of Reclamador.es, Esperanza Palacio, “has added even more pressure to courts that operate this month at half gas despite being considered a working period.

The organization explains that although domestic flights operate relatively normally in this period, a good number of routes international have been suspended again. Under normal conditions, airlines cannot cancel less than 14 days in advance, “but now they use force majeure, which leaves consumers without the possibility of requesting compensation for a sudden cancellation,” explains Palacio.

That is why the sector expects a more determined government intervention in this matter. At first, the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzon, warned that the airlines “would not get away with it” and put figures on the conflict, ensuring that the AESA would accumulate about 700,000 claims. Garzón also assured that an extrajudicial mechanism would be established to lighten the workload generated in the courts for these cases. A mediation that, today, remains unspecified.

Ministry sources explain that this solution “would be based on the issuance of binding opinions by AESA, without preventing consumers from going to court if they so wish.” In addition, they add that there are already conversations with Transport and Justice to create this mechanism. Despite this, the department does not specify when this initiative will be ready.

The shadow of the contests

In the legal world they warn that time is short. Because the thousands of claims related to ticket cancellations will be joined in the coming months by an avalanche of bankruptcy proceedings generated by the financial difficulties of a large number of companies. The head of the Commercial Court of Granada, Rafael Leonés, explains to this newspaper that “it is the big cities that are suffering, above all, complaints about flight cancellations. But in the case of contests, an avalanche is expected that will affect all the country’s courts.

The Government modified the legislation so that companies in liquidation are not obliged to request bankruptcy until next January 1. According to Leonés, it is a “parenthesis” that does not clear the uncertainty about how Justice will respond to these processes. “The Ministry of Justice has promised a reinforcement plan, but at the moment no one knows what it will be like,” concludes the judge.

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