A step forward in transparency and protection for travelers, who are often unaware of their rights.
On 14 September 2023, the Court of Justice of the EU held that national courts may, under certain conditions, inform travellers on their own motion of their right to terminate a contract for package holidays without fees in cases of extraordinary circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this case, a traveler had purchased in October 2019 a package holiday from Madrid to Vietnam and Cambodia in March 2020 but, in February 2020, wanted to cancel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The travel contract did not explicitly mention the right to cancel in such circumstances as required by the Package Travel Directive. A first instance court in Spain referred the case to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of the Directive.
The Court emphasized that the Directive obliges travel organizers to inform travelers of their right to terminate the contract. Additionally, it held that the national court may, on its own initiative, address violations of the Directive, especially when travelers are unaware of their rights. However, this is subject to certain conditions: (i) a relevant legal proceeding must exist; (ii) the right to terminate the contract must relate to the dispute’s purpose; (iii) the national court must have the necessary information to assess this right; and (iv) the traveler need not explicitly object to the Directive’s application.
In this specific case, it appears that these conditions were met, particularly because the Court had previously ruled that “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” could include global health crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the traveler might not have been aware of the right to terminate the contract due to the travel agent’s failure to inform them. Thus, the Spanish court must examine this right and notify the traveler of it, giving them the opportunity to assert it in the ongoing legal proceedings. However, it does not compel the national court to automatically terminate the contract without fees; that decision remains with the traveler.
Reference: case C-83/22 – ECLI: ECLI:EU:C:2023:664.