Air Belgium, based in Charleroi, announced on Monday that it would completely stop passenger flights from October 3. The ailing airline had already significantly reduced those flights at the end of last year and only flew to Mauritius and South Africa. That too is now coming to an end.
If you fly with Air Belgium before October 3, you don’t have to worry. Those flights will continue as usual. If your return flight takes place after October 3, the company promises to take passengers home with its own aircraft or via other airlines.
Things are different for the approximately 20,000 passengers who have a ticket for departure after October 3. Those flights are cancelled. On its website, Air Belgium says it will refund paid tickets as a priority, but the question is whether that will work. Assuming that the tickets amount to an average of 500 euros, the refund costs amount to 10 million euros.
“The fact that the company is going through a judicial reorganization means that there is not much financial space,” says Laura Clays of consumer organization Testaankoop. “There is also a chance that it will end in bankruptcy. In that case, consumers are already at the back of the creditors’ queue.”
The tickets are different for customers who booked through a travel agency. If their Air Belgium ticket is part of a package holiday, the travel agency will bear all the hassle and costs of finding a new flight. “If the flight dates do not match, the tour operator will also take care of the accommodation,” says Pierre Fivet of the interest group for travel agencies (ATBO). “If the customer only booked a flight ticket with a travel organizer, the same rules apply as if he booked directly with the airline.”
When a travel agency goes bankrupt, the customer will be reimbursed for everything through the Travel Guarantee Fund. This is a type of insurance for which travel agencies pay premiums. This does not exist for airlines. “That difference cannot actually be justified,” says Clays. “There should be better protection for passengers.”