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Coronavirus: EU launches legal action against 10 countries over cancelled flights compensation

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Empty halls in Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle international airport are pictured in Roissy, north of Paris, Thursday, May 14 2020.
Empty halls in Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle international airport are pictured in Roissy, north of Paris, Thursday, May 14 2020.   -   Copyright  Ian Langsdon, Pool via AP
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Brussels has launched legal action against 10 EU countries for failing to comply with passenger rights rules, in the wake of massive travel disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the EU's package travel directive, clients of tour operators are entitled to a full refund within two weeks or vouchers in case of cancellation.

But in the 10 countries, the European Commission says that passengers were either offered only vouchers or did not receive their money back on time.

The ten countries are the Czech Republic, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.

Greece and Italy have been summoned in a separate case for not properly applying EU rules to airline and boat passengers, which are entitled to similar consumer protections.

These member states now have two months to reply to the Commission and amend their rules. Failure to do so could ultimately result in court action.

The EU's executive branch has already warned that the pandemic could not serve as a justification for lowering consumer protection.

"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies in the transport sector have been faced with unsustainable cash flows and revenue situations. Throughout this crisis, the Commission has consistently made clear that passenger rights remain valid in the current unprecedented context and national measures to support the industry must not lower them," the Commission wrote.

The European consumer organisation, BEUC, welcomed the move by Brussels, arguing that "consumers should not be used as cheap credit to bail out the travel industry".

"It is now in the hands of governments to ensure that people who need it get reimbursed and to restore trust in the travel and tourism sector," BEUC added.