Italian regulators widen probe into airlines based on coronavirus ticket refund policies

Italian antitrust officials on Friday broadened their probe into airline policies regarding trips canceled due to factors related to the global coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian Competition Authority said Friday it was investigating the operations of discount air carriers Blue Panorama, Easyjet, Ryanair, and Vueling. This builds on an earlier investigation involving Italy’s flagship air carrier Alitalia and regional discount carrier Volotea.

The probes into the activities of the six airlines are based on consumer complaints that they would only issue flight vouchers for canceled flights rather than full refunds. Additionally, the companies are reported to offer inadequate customer service options to help resolve the issues. Three of the airlines are even reported to charge customers a fee for speaking to a customer service representative.

There is no formal timetable for the conclusion of the investigations.

The developments come as Europe’s airline industry is reeling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Almost all European flights were grounded as countries issued national coronavirus lockdowns starting in March, and travel between Europe and major destinations such as the United States, China, and Brazil remain restricted.

Even within Europe, flights are usually run at less than half capacity, while demand for flights is reduced because of coronavirus fears. Airlines also deploy infrastructure for monitoring passengers for coronavirus symptoms while disinfecting aircraft between flights.

Earlier this week, Alitalia became the first major European airline to offer “COVID-19-free” flights. Passengers on selected flights between Alitalia hubs in Rome and Milan — Italy’s two largest cities — are tested for the virus before being allowed to board the flights, with test results available before takeoff. If successful, the airline will reportedly consider expanding the program to other routes.