EU Passenger COVID19 Guidelines for the Shipping Industry!


Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has, the European Commission launched a set of guidelines, presenting the certain provisions of the EU passenger rights legislation apply in the context of the COVID-19, notably with respect to cancellations and delays, reports a circular issued by the Cyprus Government.

The circular dated 23rd March 2020, urges all registered owners, registered bareboat charterers, managers and representatives of Passenger Ships and Ro-Ro Passenger Vessels flying the Cyprus Flag to follow the guidelines set by EU.

I refer to the above subject and I wish to inform you that due to the significant impact
of the Covid -19 outbreak on tourism and transport in view of the containment measures
taken by governments such as travel restrictions, lock-downs and quarantize zones,

the European Commission has issued Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights
regulations in the context of the developing situation with Covid – 19 (C(2020) 1830 final
dated 18.3.2020).

This Commission Notice is attached hereto for your ease of reference.
All recipients of this Circular are invited to take note of its contents.

EU Guidelines

Interpretative Guidelines on EU passenger rights regulations in the context of the
developing situation with Covid-19

Passengers and the European transport industry are hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Containment measures of authorities, such as travel restrictions, lock-downs and
quarantine zones, imply that transport may be one of the most severely affected sectors of
this pandemic. The situation is stressful for many passengers, whose travel arrangements
have been cancelled and/or who do not wish or are not allowed to travel anymore.

The European Union (EU) is the only area in the world where citizens are protected by a
full set of passenger rights, whether they travel by air, rail, bus and coach or ship.

Given the unprecedented situation Europe has been experiencing due to the Covid-19
outbreak, the European Commission believes it would be helpful to clarify in this context
the rights of passengers when travelling by air, rail, bus and coach or ship, as well as the
corresponding obligations for carriers.


These interpretative guidelines aim at clarifying how certain provisions of the EU
passenger rights legislation apply in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak, notably with
respect to cancellations and delays.

The guidelines complement the guidelines previously published by the Commission1
and are without prejudice to the interpretation of the Court of Justice.

The guidelines cover the following passenger rights legislation:

  • Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of
    11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to
    passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of
    flights, and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 295/91
  • Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of
    23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations;
  • Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of
    24 November 2010 concerning the rights of passengers when travelling by sea
    and inland waterway and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004
  • Regulation (EU) No 181/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of
    16 February 2011 concerning the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport
    and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004

These guidelines do not cover Directive (EU) 2015/2302 on package travel and linked travel


  • Right to choose between reimbursement and rerouting

The four Regulations make specific provisions for this right in the case of cancellation or
of certain delays. As regards re-routing, the circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak may have an incidence on the right to choose re-routing at the “earliest opportunity”.

Carriers may find it impossible to re-route the passenger to the intended destination within a short period of time. Moreover, it may not be clear for some time when re-routing will become possible. This situation may for example arise where a Member State suspends flights or stops trains, buses, coaches or ships arriving from certain countries. Depending on the case, therefore, the “earliest opportunity” for re-routing may be considerably delayed and/or subject to considerable uncertainty. Reimbursement of the ticket price or a rerouting at a later stage “at the passenger’s convenience” might therefore be preferable for the passenger.

Details are set out further below for each transport mode.

  • Situations where passengers cannot travel or want to cancel a trip

The EU’s passenger rights regulations do not address situations where passengers cannot
travel or want to cancel a trip on their own initiative. Whether or not a passenger is
reimbursed in such cases depends on the type of ticket (reimbursable, possibility to
rebook) as specified in the carrier’s terms & conditions.

It appears that various carriers are offering vouchers to passengers, who do not want to
(or are not authorised to) travel any more as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19.

Passengers can use these vouchers for another trip with the same carrier within a
timeframe established by the carrier.

This situation has to be distinguished from the situation where the carrier cancels the
journey and offers only a voucher instead of the choice between reimbursement and rerouting. If the carrier proposes a voucher, this offer cannot affect the passenger’s right to
opt for reimbursement instead.

  • Specific national rules in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak

In some cases specific national rules have been adopted in the context of the Covid-19
outbreak, which create the obligation for carriers to refund passengers or issue a voucher
to passengers in case the passenger could not take a flight that has been operated.
Such national measures do not fall under the scope of the EU passenger rights
regulations. They are not addressed in these guidelines, which deal only with the
interpretation of the rules on passenger rights adopted by the Union


  1. Right to be informed
    As further specified in detail in Article 16 of Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010, passengers
    must be informed of the situation as soon as possible and in any event not later than 30
    minutes after the scheduled time of departure and of the estimated departure time and
    estimated arrival time as soon as that information is available.
  2.  Right to re-routing or reimbursement
    Where a carrier reasonably expects a passenger service to be cancelled or delayed in
    departure from a port terminal for more than 90 minutes, the carrier must offer
    passengers a choice between two possibilities:
     re-routing to the final destination under comparable conditions, as set out in the
    transport contract, at the earliest opportunity and at no additional cost or
     reimbursement of the ticket price and, where relevant, a return service free of
    charge to the first point of departure, as set out in the transport contract, at the
    earliest opportunity.

Details are set out in Article 18 of Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010.

Journey Continuation & Rerouting

As regards continuation of the journey/ re-routing, and as explained above, “the earliest
opportunity” may under the circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak imply
considerable delay, and the same may apply to the availability of concrete information on
such “opportunity” given the high level of uncertainty affecting sea and inland waterway

  • First, passengers should be informed about delays and/or uncertainties when offering
    them the choice between re-routing and reimbursement.
  • Second, should a passenger choose nonetheless re-routing at the earliest opportunity, the carrier should be considered to have fulfilled its information obligation towards the
    passenger if it communicated on its own initiative, as soon as possible and in good time,
    the service available for rerouting.

The provisions on re-routing and reimbursement as well as compensation do not apply to cruise ships (Article 2 (1)(c)).

Right to assistance

Under the conditions set out in Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010, passengers
are entitled to

1) assistance in the form of snacks, meals or refreshments, in proportion to
the waiting time, provided they are available or can reasonably be supplied and

2)accommodation if passengers where a stay of one or more nights or a stay additional to
that intended by the passenger becomes necessary – for up to 3 nights, at a maximum rate of €80 per night – and

3) transport to the accommodation and return to the terminal.

Right to compensation

Without losing the right to transport, passengers may request compensation from the
carrier if they are facing a delay in arrival at the final destination as set out in the
transport contract. The minimum level of compensation must be 25 % of the ticket price
for varying delays, in function of the scheduled duration of the journey. If the delay
exceeds double that duration, the compensation must be 50 % of the ticket price. Details
are set out in Article 19 of Regulatin (EU) No 1177/2010.

Article 20(4) of Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010 provides for certain exemptions from the
right to compensation, among other things, on account of extraordinary circumstances.

The Commission considers that, where public authorities take measures intended to
contain the Covid-19 pandemic, such measures are by their nature and origin not inherent
in the normal exercise of the activity of carriers and are outside their actual control.
Article 20(4) waives the right to compensation on condition that the cancellation in
question “is caused” by extraordinary circumstances, hindering the performance of the
passenger service which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had
been taken.

This condition should be considered fulfilled, where public authorities either outright
prohibit certain transport services or ban the movement of persons in a manner that
excludes, de facto, the transport service in question to be operated.
This condition may also be fulfilled, where the cancellation occurs in circumstances
where the corresponding movement of persons is not entirely prohibited, but limited to
10 persons benefitting from derogations (for example nationals or residents of the state

Where no such person would travel, the vessel or ship would remain empty if the service
is not cancelled. In such situations, it may be legitimate for a carrier not to wait until very
late, but to cancel the transport service in good time (and even without being certain
about the rights of the various passengers to travel at all), in order for appropriate
organisational measures to be taken, including in terms of care for passengers owed by
the carrier.

In cases of the kind, and depending on the circumstances, a cancellation may
still be viewed as “caused” by the measure taken by the public authorities. Again,
depending on the circumstances, this may also be the case in respect of transport services
in the direction opposite to the services directly concerned by the ban on the movement
of persons.

Where the carrier decides to cancel a transport service and shows that this decision was
justified on grounds of protecting the health of the crew, such cancellation should also be
considered as “caused” by extraordinary circumstances.

The above considerations are not and cannot be exhaustive in that other specific
circumstances in relation to Covid-19 may also fall under the ambit of Article 20(4).

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Source: Cyprus Government


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