Air travel has changed a lot in recent years and air travel has seen more frequent cancellations due to uncertainty and restrictions. Passengers who hold a non-cancellable airline ticket are often faced with the question of whether and how to get their taxes and fees back if they are unable to board the flight.
For most tickets, the pure air fare is only returned if the airline itself cancels the flight, unless it is a question of special flexible fares. But if you cancel yourself or simply don't make use of the booking, the net air fare won't be returned, especially in cheap fare classes. The situation is completely different with taxes and fees, which make up a significant part of the money paid by many airlines. The airline only has to pay this if the passenger actually flew. There is even a legal right to get the “taxes” back. However, many passengers do not know this, so that “no shows” can amount to a not inconsiderable amount of money.
Incidentally, the taxes and fees do not have to be reclaimed immediately, but you have a proud three years to do so. After that, the claim is considered statute-barred and the airline can legally refuse the reimbursement with reference to the statute of limitations. Caution: Shorter limitation periods apply in some EU countries. It therefore makes sense that the fees should be reclaimed in the event of cancellation and/or as soon as possible.
The tips given in this article do not constitute legal advice, which is reserved for notaries and lawyers under Austrian law. For detailed advice, travelers should, for example, contact a lawyer they trust or a legal advice center of a consumer protection organization. Free initial legal information can also be obtained from judges in Austria by appointment on the official days of the district courts.
Taxes and Fees Refunds – Which price components are refundable?
In the case of flights that were not taken, passengers generally have the right to reclaim the taxes and fees charged on the ticket. These are various price components, including:
- Aviation tax (or comparable): This tax is levied by the German federal government, for example, and varies depending on the flight route and class. Other governments impose similar levies under different names. These are also refundable.
- Airport and Security Fees: These fees are charged by airports for using their infrastructure and services.
- Value added tax: VAT may also be recoverable on some flights. This tax usually only applies to domestic flights, as international air tickets are not subject to VAT due to international agreements.
- Certain supplements: Airlines often charge additional fees and surcharges. These can include, for example, the so-called kerosene surcharge. These may also be refundable. Caution: Some carriers are creative and have given their fees and surcharges other names in order to avoid having to pay them back if possible. You should be particularly persistent here.
It is important to note that these refunds are independent of the flight ticket cancellation policy. Even if the ticket has been declared “non-refundable”, passengers still have the right to reclaim the above price components.
Enforcement of claims and possible difficulties
Passengers wishing to reclaim their taxes and fees should first contact the airline directly and request a refund. Unfortunately, airlines can sometimes refuse or charge a processing fee to make refunds more difficult. In such a case, passengers should assert their claims vigorously. Here are some ways you can go about it:
- Complaint to the airline: First, passengers should send a written complaint to the airline, explaining their right to a refund of taxes and fees.
- Contact with supervisory authorities: If the airline continues to refuse the refund, passengers can contact the relevant regulatory authorities, such as the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt in Germany, and file their complaint.
- Consumer protection institutions: Free consumer protection organizations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland offer advice and assistance to passengers. You can help enforce claims and get the airline to reimburse you.
- Complaint in court: In some cases it can be unavoidable that the airline has to be sued for reimbursement of the taxes and fees. Low-cost airlines in particular, which simply do not show this price component on the invoices and claim that they did not pay any taxes at all, often resort to legal action. Legal protection insurance with general contractual legal protection usually covers such lawsuits. Persons who cannot afford a lawyer and/or court fees due to their financial circumstances have the option of applying to the competent court for legal aid. Low-cost airlines in particular, which simply do not show this price component on the invoices and claim that they did not pay any taxes at all, often resort to legal action. Legal protection insurance with general contractual legal protection usually covers such lawsuits. Persons who, due to their financial situation, cannot afford a lawyer and/or court fees can apply to the competent court for legal aid.
Supreme court judgments and right to reimbursement
Several Supreme Court rulings have reinforced passengers' right to a refund of taxes and fees. For example, in Sturgeon v. Condor Flugdienst GmbH” in 2009 that passengers are entitled to reimbursement of taxes and fees even if flights are not taken.
Some airlines have also already suffered legal defeats because they charged exorbitantly high processing fees or made the application for reimbursement absurdly complicated. An example of this would be Germanwings, because in the past the company required a multi-page form to be printed out in colour, filled out and then sent by registered mail to an address in Dortmund. Furthermore, the pages were not allowed to be creased, otherwise processing would be refused. Some of the most curious questions were asked on the form, such as who was seated next to you. Especially with flights that you didn't take, it's probably completely absurd. The German judiciary put a stop to this and banned the former procedure in court. The successor Eurowings indicates during the booking process which monies are refundable in the event of cancellation or no-show and which are not.
Reimbursement for low-cost airlines without declared taxes and fees
A special circumstance arises with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Wizzair, which often do not display a detailed breakdown of taxes and fees on the airline tickets. In such cases, passengers can still get a refund of taxes and fees. At the moment, Ryanair even writes “You do not pay government taxes” during the booking process. This is of course completely absurd, because the taxes and fees still apply and are included in the final price. They are only not explicitly shown, so that if you request a refund, you can say that you have not paid anything in this direction.
The competitor Wizz Air and other low-cost airlines are proceeding in a similar way. However, the anti-customer practices do not change the fact that you have a right to a refund of taxes and fees. Being right and being right are two different things, especially for low costers. In many cases, customer service gets nowhere because agents are trained to decline and argue that no taxes were paid at all. Sometimes it works with persistence to get money on your own, but unfortunately going to a lawyer or a specialized service provider who works on a commission basis is rarely spared.
Since those carriers in particular who do not itemize the taxes and fees paid on their invoices often strictly refuse to provide information, the only way to get information is to complain about it yourself or via a service provider. If the responsible court grants the application, the airline concerned is ordered to break down the taxes and fees exactly. There are also enforcement options in the event of further refusal within the framework of the execution.
If you have now determined the exact monetary value, the airline must be asked to pay back. It is to be expected that resistance will be offered again and a second lawsuit, this time a lawsuit for repayment (dunning lawsuit) will have to be filed. Low-cost airlines in particular often pay when this is delivered. Sometimes an objection is raised and a verbal hearing is allowed, which, by the way, is often “skipped” so that default judgments are issued in favor of the passengers. It is extremely rare for carriers to go through all the stages of appeal, although with a few exceptions the passengers almost always win in the end. The unwilling airlines cause an avalanche of legal and court costs that they have to bear themselves, but one gains time and speculates that many travelers are not willing to take on all the stress or do not have legal protection insurance with general contractual legal protection . It should be mentioned again that people who cannot afford legal and/or court costs due to their financial circumstances have the opportunity to apply for legal aid from the competent court.
A brief summary of the procedure:
- Information on the amount of taxes and fees: First, passengers should request information from the airline about the amount of taxes and fees. If necessary, this may even have to be sued in court.
- Complaint for reimbursement: If the airline then refuses to reimburse you despite having the information about the amount of taxes and fees, you must sue for reimbursement. If it becomes final, enforcement can then be initiated.
It is advisable to seek legal advice or support from consumer protection organizations to make the process efficient. Lawyers and specialized legal techs can also be helpful. In particular, people who have legal protection insurance with general contract legal protection should not shy away from suing their right if necessary. Legal aid is an option if you cannot afford legal and court costs.
Free consumer protection facilities
In Germany, Austria and Switzerland there are several free consumer protection organizations that can advise and support passengers. Some relevant contact points are:
- Germany: Consumer Center Federal Association (vzbv)
- Austria: Association for Consumer Information (VKI)
- Switzerland: Foundation for Consumer Protection (SKS)
These organizations provide advice and assistance to passengers to enforce their rights and receive a fair refund of taxes and fees. Arbitration bodies such as the Agency for Passenger and Passenger Rights (Austria) or the SÖP in Germany can also be helpful, because these are also free for affected travelers.
Overall, passengers have the right to a refund of taxes and fees even for non-cancellable tickets. It is important that they are aware of their rights and actively claim them, where appropriate with the support of consumer organizations and regulators, to ensure fair treatment by airlines.