Airline taxes, fees and charges – what’s the law?

Airlines collect taxes, fees and charges from passengers when flights are booked. But the airline is only legally obliged to pass these onto the various bodies when the passengers fly.

So if passengers doesn’t travel for any reason the airline does not pass these monies onto the Government, airport authority or other agency – they may keep them, although they belong to the passenger who paid for them in the first place.

More specifically, the accepted legal opinion is as follows: “A payment made on a basis which fails, can be recovered. So if I pay for cigarettes, and the price includes an amount for a tax, which is subsequently found to be unconstitutional, the basis for that excess amount has failed , and I can recover the tax amount that wasn’t due" (See Roxborough v Rothmans of Pall Mall Australia Limited (2001), 208 CLR 516 (2001), HCA 68 (6 December 2001).

This same principle applies to the airlines and therefore you ought to be able to recover these charges. If the contract between you and the airline contains clauses making them irrecoverable (or what amounts to the same thing, imposing disproportionately high administration fees) such clauses are almost certainly unenforceable (on the foot of the European Communities (Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts) regulations, 1995 (S.I No27 of 1995) the English equivalent of which has been applied recently by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) against one airline’s terms and conditions. it bears repeating: as a matter of law, taxes collected but not due must be refunded.

And any charge for the return must not be ‘disproportionate’, which requires of course that (airlines) justify their charge as proportionate to the actual costs incurred in making the refund” (source with management of

European Civil Aviation – Passenger Services Commitment.   In 2002, many EU airlines signed up to the European Civil Aviation Conference’s Passenger Services Commitment (PSC) .Those that did not sign up to this introduced their own similar service.

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