With the rising number of novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases in the northern part of Italy, both international travellers and airlines operating in the region are forced to change their plans. Wizz Air has already announced a major adjustment to its flight schedule – starting from 11 March, it reduces its Italian flight capacity by 60%.
This decision will affect hundreds of flights across the region, forcing thousands of travellers to change their travel plans. And while most of the passengers affected by these cancellations are offered a travel date change, Wizz Air also states that “Customers who have booked directly on wizzair.com or the airline’s mobile app will receive an email notification, in which they are offered a free rebooking or full refund or 120 percent refund of the original fare in airline credit.”
The airline aims to cut its costs at passengers’ expense
For some air travellers who are worried about their travel plans, such an offer from the carrier might seem quite attractive. As travel warnings regarding visits to Northern Italy are issued every day, a lot of air travellers were already looking for options to cancel or postpone their leisure or business trips.
While the airline’s main competitors were reluctant to make a decision, Wizz Air has decided to “significantly reduce” their flight capacity on Milan, Rome, Bologna, Bergamo and other routes in the region and offer passengers a change of date or a refund without additional charges. This decision resolves many doubts for many of the airline’s passengers who were thinking about cancelling their trips to Italy.
But as airline industry experts at flight compensation company Skycop notes, there probably was at least one important thing that Wizz Air decided to leave unsaid. “Of course, even low-cost carriers try to show some good faith in such a situation” – says Lukas Raščiauskas, CEO at Skycop. “But we already know there’s a hook – and the information we got from some of the passengers whose flight to Italy was cancelled has confirmed our initial suspicions.”
Passengers are also entitled to a disrupted flight compensation
Under the Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004, every passenger of a cancelled flight is entitled to compensation from the airline. Depending on the flight distance, the amount of cancelled flight compensation ranges between €250 and €600 for everybody whom the carrier failed to inform about the cancellation at least 14 days prior to the scheduled departure date. The air carrier could be exempted from such responsibility only if the flight disruption was caused by extraordinary circumstances – something that was completely out of airline’s control. Military actions, wildlife strikes, operational issues at the airport or public health emergencies could be considered extraordinary circumstances, but as Mr. Raščiauskas points out, that’s not the case here.
“In this situation, Wizz Air clearly stated that it’s the airline’s decision, related only to the decreased demand on its Italian routes. In other words, they won’t fly the passengers who have already paid them for the service because the airline is afraid that it won’t make any profit out of that flight. The purpose of the Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 is to protect the rights of all the passengers who booked seats on such flights.”