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Aviation

Air carriers are not obligated to refund fees charged by ticket providers

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Legal news
calendar 25 May 2022
globus Denmark, Sweden, Norway

When passengers purchase their flight ticket through a travel agent, the travel agent often charges some additional fees aside from the actual ticket. This can cause problems when the flight is canceled. In such a case, the passenger can claim the ticket price refunded directly from the air carrier, but the question is whether this also applies to the additional fees? This is considered in a recent ruling from the Court in Kolding.

In 2020, three friends had booked a trip through an online travel agency from Billund to Antalya, departing on 28 April 2020 and returning on 7 May 2020. However, the trip was canceled due to COVID-19. The air carrier and the passengers agreed that the pandemic was the cause of the cancellation and that the passengers therefore were entitled to a refund of the unused tickets following EU Regulation 241 Article 8, 1.

On the other hand, they did not agree on what should happen to the fee of almost 96 EUR, corresponding to a little more than 500 DKK which the travel agency had charged the passengers in connection with their purchase. Therefore, the case was put before the Court in Kolding in December 2020.

The full cost of the ticket

In their reasoning, the passengers emphasized that Regulation 261/2004 in Article 8, 1 (a) states that there must be a refund of "the full cost of the ticket" for those parts of a specific trip that have not been made.

The regulation does not contain a definition of "the full cost”, so the passengers referred to EU case C-601/17 Harms v. Vueling. In that case, the European Court of Justice ruled that the full cost must be the difference between the amount paid by the passenger and the amount received by the carrier. The court also pointed out that the fee charged by the travel agent is also included in the "full cost" unless the fee is set without the air carrier's knowledge. On this basis, the passengers did not think there could be any doubt that the air carrier should repay the fee. They stressed that they as consumers had no knowledge of the air carrier's workflows and partners. In this connection, they also pointed out that it was the air carrier's task to prove that they were not aware of the fee.

An agreement only entails rights and obligations for those who are a party to the agreement

The air carrier, on the other hand, emphasized that it ought to be the travel agency or ticket intermediary that pays reimbursement to the passengers – as well as any fees, because the air carrier does not have the opportunity to know which agreements have been made between the two parties. The fact that a travel agency chooses to resell an air carrier’s travel service does not mean that the air carrier becomes a party to the agreement between the passenger and the travel agency. The air carrier is only obliged to transport the passenger to the destination stated on the ticket.

The Court in Kolding agreed with this when they stated that the air carrier was not obliged to refund the fee. In that regard, the Court found it crucial that there was no evidence that the air carrier was aware of the existence of the resale fee, its amount or what it covered.

IUNO’s opinion

Based on this case, we can ascertain that it should not be a financial burden for the air carrier that travel agencies and similar ticket intermediaries charge an extra fee. However, it is important to be aware that this is only the case if the air carriers are not aware of the fee. Therefore, IUNO recommends that air carriers do not recognize claims for reimbursement of fees unless the fee is charged in accordance with an agreement with the air carrier.

[The Court in Kolding's judgment of 24 January 2022 in case BS-47822/2022-KOL]

In 2020, three friends had booked a trip through an online travel agency from Billund to Antalya, departing on 28 April 2020 and returning on 7 May 2020. However, the trip was canceled due to COVID-19. The air carrier and the passengers agreed that the pandemic was the cause of the cancellation and that the passengers therefore were entitled to a refund of the unused tickets following EU Regulation 241 Article 8, 1.

On the other hand, they did not agree on what should happen to the fee of almost 96 EUR, corresponding to a little more than 500 DKK which the travel agency had charged the passengers in connection with their purchase. Therefore, the case was put before the Court in Kolding in December 2020.

The full cost of the ticket

In their reasoning, the passengers emphasized that Regulation 261/2004 in Article 8, 1 (a) states that there must be a refund of "the full cost of the ticket" for those parts of a specific trip that have not been made.

The regulation does not contain a definition of "the full cost”, so the passengers referred to EU case C-601/17 Harms v. Vueling. In that case, the European Court of Justice ruled that the full cost must be the difference between the amount paid by the passenger and the amount received by the carrier. The court also pointed out that the fee charged by the travel agent is also included in the "full cost" unless the fee is set without the air carrier's knowledge. On this basis, the passengers did not think there could be any doubt that the air carrier should repay the fee. They stressed that they as consumers had no knowledge of the air carrier's workflows and partners. In this connection, they also pointed out that it was the air carrier's task to prove that they were not aware of the fee.

An agreement only entails rights and obligations for those who are a party to the agreement

The air carrier, on the other hand, emphasized that it ought to be the travel agency or ticket intermediary that pays reimbursement to the passengers – as well as any fees, because the air carrier does not have the opportunity to know which agreements have been made between the two parties. The fact that a travel agency chooses to resell an air carrier’s travel service does not mean that the air carrier becomes a party to the agreement between the passenger and the travel agency. The air carrier is only obliged to transport the passenger to the destination stated on the ticket.

The Court in Kolding agreed with this when they stated that the air carrier was not obliged to refund the fee. In that regard, the Court found it crucial that there was no evidence that the air carrier was aware of the existence of the resale fee, its amount or what it covered.

IUNO’s opinion

Based on this case, we can ascertain that it should not be a financial burden for the air carrier that travel agencies and similar ticket intermediaries charge an extra fee. However, it is important to be aware that this is only the case if the air carriers are not aware of the fee. Therefore, IUNO recommends that air carriers do not recognize claims for reimbursement of fees unless the fee is charged in accordance with an agreement with the air carrier.

[The Court in Kolding's judgment of 24 January 2022 in case BS-47822/2022-KOL]

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