Consumers can always ask airlines for refunds in case of cancellations
If their flight is cancelled, consumers must be able to turn to the airline directly for their refunds. This also applies if that flight was booked through a travel agent (including online agents). If the travel agent handles the refund process on behalf of the consumer, it must be transparent prior to the booking about any fees it charges for refund-handling. The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) can take enforcement action if agents fail to comply with these rules.
ILT and ACM have received many reports from consumers whose flights were cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures. Consumers complained that they could not turn to the airlines for refunds if the flights had not been booked directly with those airlines. Airlines referred consumers to the travel agents through which they had booked their flights. That is not allowed. If a flight gets cancelled, the airline must, according to European regulations, offer consumers a choice between a refund within 7 days or rebooking their flight. This also applies to flights booked through travel agents. ILT can take enforcement action against airlines that continue to refer consumers to their travel agents for refunds, or if airlines do not pay back within 7 days. Consumers have the opportunity to file complaints (in Dutch) about such situations with ILT.
In practice, many online travel agents have tried to get refunds for consumers. Consumers complained though that the refund process through the travel agent often took too long, and that some of the travel agents unexpectedly charged handling fees. This is not allowed either. Online travel agents are allowed to offer to consumers that they will handle the refund process for them. However, if they charge handling fees for that, they will have to be transparent about it prior to booking. Consumers will then be able to choose between asking the airline for a refund themselves, or asking the travel agent to do so on their behalf. In that context, consumers should know that the 7-day period for refunds do not apply to travel agents. ACM can take enforcement action against travel agents if they are not transparent about any refund-handling fees they charge. Consumers have the opportunity to file complaints (in Dutch) about unexpected fees with ACM.
ILT and ACM are only able to take enforcement action in case of structural violations. ILT and ACM cannot take any action in individual cases. In the Netherlands, the courts are able to do that. In addition, the European regulations only apply to European airlines and to other airlines that depart from European airports.