The Legal Position

February 11, 2004 – EU consumer protection legislation

On Fenruary 11 2004, the European Commission introduced legislation, applicable to every state of the European Union, aimed at protecting the rights of travellers.

European Commission Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, “establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights”, of necessity contains a lot of legalese language. You can plough through the document if you wish by clicking on the link above, but, to cut a long story short, if the airline cancels the flight, they may:-

  • re-route you to the same detination at the earliest opportunity if you so choose
  • or, if you choose so (“at the passenger’s convenience”), re-route you at a later date
  • or, if you choose so (“at the passenger’s convenience”), refund the price you paid, including the return portion of a combined ticket, “within seven days”.

Under the legislation, additional compensation may also be due, however, in this situation, one assumes Aegean was sure to notify all its passengers at least 14 days in advance of their flight dates to comply with the legislation. In any case, Covid-19 would almost certainly qualify as an “extraordinary circumstance” and  Aegean could therefore invoke the “extraordinary circumstances” clauses of the legislation to avoid any obligation to pay additional compensation.

March 18, 2020 – EU reaffirms its 2004 law

On March 18 2020, the European Commission issued a clarifying document specifically in relation to the developing Covid-19 pandemic – C(2020) 1830, Commission Notice, Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights regulations in the context of the developing situation with Covid-19.

C(2020) 1830 clearly re-iterates European Commission Regulation (EC) No 261/2004:

“In the case of a flight cancellation by the airlines (no matter what the cause is), Article 5 obliges the operating air carrier to offer the passengers the choice among:

a) reimbursement (refund);
b) re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or
c) re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience.”

April 13, 2020 & May 30, 2020 – Greece introduces ‘pick-pocket law’

In its Government Gazette, A’ 84/13.04.2020, the Greek government published a new ‘law’ which unilaterally overturned the obligation, set out in European Commission Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, to offer the passenger reimbursement in the case of cancellation.

May 30 saw the publication of Government Gazette A 104 – 30.05.2020, article 61 of which ratifies the April ‘law’. 

Instead of offering reimbursement in cash, the new Greek legislation permits ‘reimbursement’ by offering a voucher for travel, valid for 18 months. It states that, if the voucher is not used by the passenger within the 18-month period, the airline has a duty to refund the amount to the passenger in cash.

This ‘pick-pocket law’ is most likely illegal in a European context. However, it could be considered that the European Commission might be sympathetic to Greece in this case, particularly in view of a similar move by the German government, and pressure from other European governments to remove consumer protection, so, the European Commission might therefore be reluctant to take action against Greece.

July 2, 2020 – European Commission starts legal action against Greece

On July 2, 2020, the European Commision announced that it had started ‘Infringement Proceedings’ against Greece for violation of EU law EC261/2004 in respect of the laws passed by the Greek government, ‘Government Gazette, A’ 84/13.04.2020′ and ‘Government Gazette A 104 – 30.05.2020′, which permiited its travel companies to withhold cash refunds mandated by the HIGHER European law.

This action by the EC has clearly been driven by the upswell of complaints about the illegal actions of the Greek government and its travel companies. We would like to think that we have played a small part in the EC’s decision by our dialogue with the EC and our petition and email campaign.

Directive 2014/17/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council (credit card ‘chargeback’)

This directive, Directive 2014/17/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, provides for full refund if the supplier fails to meet its contractual obligations to supply goods or services. Each EU country implements the provisions of this directive in its own national laws.

In the UK, the provisions of the directive are implemented in Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and subsequent amendments to it.

The procedure to follow is to apply to your credit or debit card provider. You should find details of the claims procedure on your card provider’s website. In some countries, debit cards are not covered in national law.

Once the claim is accepted by your card provider, the ‘chargeback’ process is handled by your bank in conjunction with the VISA/MASTERCARD/OTHER organisation and the merchant’s card facility provider. Because the process is operating under your own national law, it should be unaffected by the Greek ‘pick-pocket law’. However, we’ve read reports that Aegean is contesting chargebacks citing the Greek ‘pick-pocket laws’. You should fight your case with your card provider on the basis that the transaction between yourself and the card provider was subject to EU law and/or national law and NOT subject to a Greek law which, in any case, may have not even been in existence when the transaction was made.

You may find this report from the EU website useful – Chargeback in the EU/EEA – A solution to get your money back when a trader does not respect your consumer rights.

The Human Rights Issue

While there might be some doubt over the legality of Greece’s ‘pick-pocket law’ and the willingness of the EU to take action against Greece, what is absolutely clear is that the Greek government has ridden roughshod over the human rights of passengers, forcing them, against their will, to lend money, in the case in point, to Aegean Airlines. This loan is interest-free and unsecured, even by the Greek government itself, in the event of the collapse of Aegean.

One hopes for, and encourages, action to be brought against the Greek government and Aegean Airlines under the European Convention on Human Rights which could have an extremely good chance of achieving a satisfactory outcome for passengers.