After talks with the European Commission, 16 airlines agreed to clear refund backlogs, to better inform travellers when companies would cancel flights and to offer vouchers only when passengers chose them.
The airlines included Air France-KLM, British Airways, Easyjet, Lufthansa, Ryanair, TAP, and Wizz Air among others.
"In the early phase of the pandemic, some airlines pushed vouchers on passengers," Didier Reynders, European commissioner for justice, said in a statement. "They were acting against EU consumer protection rules. That was unacceptable," he said.
National authorities in individual EU states are responsible for the enforcement of EU consumer protection laws. The EU law, the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation, has created a network of state enforcers to coordinate on such issues.
The EU Commission said this was the biggest Consumer Protection Cooperation action in the CPC network's history and the first action that was based on an alert from the Commission.
"Airlines have breached European consumer rights on a massive scale during the pandemic," Monique Goyens, general director of the European Consumer Organisation CEUC, which led the complaint to the EU in July 2020, said in an emailed statement.
"It's time for airlines to clean up their act ... Many consumers across Europe are still waiting for their money back, for flights cancelled during the first lockdowns in 2020."
EU transport chief Adina Valean also welcomed the agreement, adding that it will restore trust between passengers and airlines. "The recovery of the air transport sector depends on this," she said.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
By Marine Strauss