- Priscila Carvalho
- From Sao Paulo to BBC News Brazil
After the holidays, Brazil was taken by the increase in the number of cases of covid-19 and influenza.
Those who had scheduled travel had to change plans quickly and resort to the rescheduling and cancellation services offered by airlines.
However, as of January 1, 2022, law 14,034 – enacted on an emergency basis because of the pandemic – is no longer valid and, now, the passenger who withdraws from the trip will have to pay a fine or fare difference.
The new rules apply even to those who have received the diagnosis of covid and cannot board on the scheduled date. Before, the consumer who gave up the trip could do so at no cost.
The change took some travelers by surprise and frustrated those who had air tickets issued. This was the case of Cláudia Struziato, a 56-year-old retired teacher from São Paulo, who was traveling through Europe and would return from Portugal in the last week. However, upon receiving the diagnosis of covid-19, he had to stay in isolation and change his plans.
When he tried to change the return date of his flight through the airline, the rebooking fee was almost the price of a new ticket. And she had purchased her ticket through a third-party agency and using 2020 cruise credits.
“It was almost R$4,000 to reschedule. The agency tried to negotiate with the airline, but they couldn’t. They even claimed it was non-refundable. I lost all my return ticket”, he tells BBC News Brasil. She still expects to receive, at least, the amount paid to be able to check the luggage.
The teacher also points out that the tourist agency itself advised her to buy a new ticket and that it would be almost impossible to reschedule without cost.
“They could consider it, since I didn’t board because I had covid”, she says indignantly. Because of this, she paid another R$ 3,996 and intends to return to the country next Thursday (1/13). “This amount is now refundable.”
Igor Britto, director of Institutional Relations at the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection (Idec), points out that the current rules apply to the date of cancellation, not purchase.
Although it seems bad for the tourist, the specialist reinforces that now, in fact, the consumer protection code and resolutions of Anac (National Civil Aviation Agency) are back in force.
“It was a temporary law and was not good for consumers, but for airlines. It allowed these companies to provide credit for consumers to use. It was not a created right, but a compensation”, he says.
Now, if the airline changes or cancels the flight date, it will have to return the money in full and within seven days to the passenger.
“ANAC’s resolution is to return the money. No fines, nothing”, highlights the Idec specialist. But if the consumer gives up, he will have to bear the costs and tariff changes.
Until December 31, 2021
If the airline canceled a flight until December 31, 2021, the passenger was entitled to a refund, credit, rebooking or rebooking of the flight, regardless of the payment method used, free of charge and within 18 months from the date of acquisition.
In relation to reimbursement, it should be returned and corrected by the INPC (National Consumer Price Index), within 12 months.
If the consumer gave up on the trip, he was exempt from the contractual fine and the amount paid for the ticket remained as credit for future use. However, if the passenger decided to cancel the air ticket and opted for a refund, he was subject to the contractual rules of the purchased fare and fines could be applied.
As of January 1, 2022
Anac’s resolution reappears, according to which airlines can charge fees and fines normally due to the rebooking of tickets at the customer’s request.
Airlines can also re-market non-refundable fares and, in the case of refundable fares, customers must receive the amount within seven days, instead of 12 months, as in the previous rule.
Finally, if the company cancels or changes the flight in more than 30 minutes, the customer can request a full refund or re-accommodation on another plane of the company itself. “International flights scheduled until 03/31/2022, the current rules of the pandemic will still apply”, explains João Leão, a lawyer specializing in consumer law.
What are my rights when changing the ticket?
Airlines are easing rebooking without a fine in the case of a diagnosis of covid-19 – however, they can charge fare changes.
The airline Latam informed, through a note, that passengers with covid-19 can reschedule the date of travel once without a fine, but paying a fare difference (if any). It is necessary to present the test at the time of service to change the purchase.
Gol, in a note, said that involuntary rescheduling, upon presentation of the covid-19 test, gives the right to change at no additional cost. However, voluntary rebooking (made by the passenger without illness) occurs with the collection of the appropriate fees and fare difference. The company also informed that these rules are only valid for covid-19.
Azul Linhas Aéreas informed that it advises the customer not to board and take the test for covid-19 and influenza. The airline gives the option to leave the full amount as a credit in the company to passengers who tested positive for the disease. For customers who voluntarily want to cancel and rebook their tickets, the amounts are charged according to the fare rule.
Britto points out that just as the airlines themselves are laying off their employees for getting sick, he argues that the consumer also has the right not to overpay for changes to the ticket.
“We are in a pandemic period. If the person is contaminated, obviously he cannot travel. In the same way that airlines are canceling because the crew is contaminated, the consumer can stop traveling without prejudice, yes”, says the expert.
“In case of contagious diseases, such as covid, influenza and others, the airline is obliged to rebook the customer’s ticket. The passenger must contact the company and send a report or current exam, to prove the disease and thus request rescheduling”, reinforces Leão, who is also CEO of Indenize Voe, a company specialized in air demands.
According to experts, markdowns can reach 80% of the value of the original ticket, harming the consumer. If the passenger has the infection and does not want to board, he can contact the airline directly and change the ticket.
If the values for changing the flight are exorbitant, he can still complain to the SAC or the company’s ombudsman. The same goes for packages purchased from third-party travel agencies and not directly from the airline.
If fees are paid, experts point out that it is necessary to gather all receipts, connection protocols and file a formal complaint on the consumer.gov website or in competent bodies to try to recover the amount.
“If the passenger is unable to contact the airline, he can seek the Procon of his city or even the Special Civil Court, to reduce any demand or failure to provide air transport service”, says the lawyer specializing in consumer protection.
The recommendation to avoid travel during the pandemic period should still be taken into account, according to Sylvia Lemos Hinrinchsen, an infectious disease specialist and biosafety consultant at the Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases (SBI).
In the case of covid-19, the specialist highlights that the isolation of ten days is still recommended, since the person can show symptoms and test positive only on the seventh, for example.
However, many people are not following the correct way and continue to be reckless, according to the infectologist. “You have to start taking responsibility. Many people are having mild symptoms and are not doing any type of isolation, not five, seven, not ten”, he warns.
On Monday (10), the Ministry of Health reduced from 10 to 7 days the isolation of patients with the disease, but without symptoms and after a negative test.
For Hinrinchsen, the changes made by airlines can still make passengers omit symptoms and board, even if they are contaminated. “It’s happening not only in airlines, but in resorts, beaches and restaurants. Alcohol gel has disappeared”, he asks.
Flávia Bravo, director of the Brazilian Society of Immunizations (SBIm), emphasizes the importance of avoiding unnecessary displacement during the period of high contamination rate. This goes not only for those who have covid-19, but also influenza. In the latter, the doctor highlights the accelerated transmission.
“Influenza is not a limiting factor, but it is a proliferation factor. It started in Rio de Janeiro and spread throughout Brazil”. She further advises that any individual who is sick, avoid traveling. “In the case of children, it could even be chickenpox.”
Both specialists reinforce that, if the person has already scheduled or purchased a trip, the ideal is to do it by car, if possible. “Avoid long trips by bus or plane and being with other people”, says Bravo. In the case of accommodation, prioritize places that have outdoor areas, that are following hygiene and covid-19 protocols.
For those who already have a trip scheduled and need to pay for a plane, it is recommended to use N95 or PFF2 masks, which offer better filtering capacity, in addition to avoiding agglomeration whenever possible.
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