Payment principle for air travel is to be reformed


Hanover Airport

With a Federal Council initiative, Lower Saxony wants to abolish the prepayment principle for air travel.


(Photo: dpa)

Berlin According to the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), vacationers should no longer be asked to pay in advance when booking flights or trips. “Passengers are tired of giving the airlines interest-free loans, having to bear the costs of canceled flights or, in the worst case, having to bear the risk of insolvency,” said VZBV mobility expert Marion Jungbluth to the Handelsblatt. “The federal government must reform the advance payment practice for flight bookings.”

In view of the chaos at several German airports this summer, Jungbluth sees an urgent need for action. The responsible federal ministers Steffi Lemke (Greens, consumer protection) and Volker Wissing (FDP, transport) should set up a round table with the participation of airlines, airports and consumer associations to prepare a change in the prepayment practice.

into the subject came at the weekend through a push by the Lower Saxony state government movement. The federal state, which is governed by the SPD and CDU, wants to abolish the advance payment principle for air travel with an initiative in the Bundesrat. “This type of contract design has often led to considerable difficulties for travelers in recent years if the respective flights have not been carried out as planned,” says the initiative, which is available to the Handelsblatt.

Accordingly, ticket prices should be requested at the earliest “when the flight is dispatched”. “In future, the ticket would only have to be paid for at check-in. With this, we want to significantly improve consumer protection for travellers,” State Transport Minister Bernd Althusmann (CDU) told the Handelsblatt. According to the report, the state government wants to decide on the initiative in the cabinet on Tuesday and put it on the agenda of the state chamber at the next Federal Council meeting on September 16th.

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According to one Reports published by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts on behalf of the VZBV in December 2020 an end to the prepayment practice for consumers would be associated with “very moderate price increases”. Without advance payment, however, the flight and travel providers would have to raise equity or borrowed capital for advance services. Because of the extra costs for this, the prices for flight bookings would increase by a maximum of 3.3 percent, those for package tours by 1.1 percent, according to the report.

Thousands of passengers complain about airlines

Matthias von Randow, General Manager of the Federal Association of the German Aviation Industry, also pointed out that travel would become more expensive. Flights would become more expensive because they could no longer be planned, “because the airline has to take into account that the seat booked may remain free and can no longer be sold”. In addition, the airlines would have “enormous competitive disadvantages” if advance payment was only Germany would be banned, said von Randow.

>> Read also: Thousands of flights canceled – why one Lufthansa– Board does not see a quick end to the flight chaos

On the other hand, in the event of a flight cancellation, a refund seems to work only insufficiently, as current figures from the Arbitration Board for Public Transport (SÖP) show.
According to this, 3082 applications were received between July 1st and August 15th this year – that was 127.5 percent or 1727 cases more than in the same period last year. Around 80 percent of the disputes were related to air traffic. The train affected around 15 percent of the cases, another three percent included long-distance buses and local transport.

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Approval for the demand for the abolition of the prepayment practice came from the parliamentary groups of SPD and Union. “A softening of the principle of payment in advance is conceivable and, in view of the increasing number of complaints, a step that should be seriously considered,” said CSU-Consumer politician Volker Ullrich. He emphasized that in his view it would be just as effective to oblige airlines to automatically compensate their customers using so-called smart contracts.

Consumer advocate Jungbluth made a similar statement. The EU passenger rights regulation currently offers consumers a good level of protection. “But they often have to wait too long for compensation.” Jungbluth demanded that travelers be given automatic compensation in the event of flight cancellations or delays.

“Stranded passengers must be able to assert their rights with a few clicks,” she said. Arbitration results should be binding on airlines after an appeal period. “In this way, the procedures can be simplified and passengers can get their rights faster,” emphasized the VZBV expert.

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