Flight cancellations at the forefront of contacts made to the ECC Finland in 2021

The European Consumer Centre Finland processed 2,692 new consumer contacts in 2021. A majority of all new contacts (83%) concerned products and services purchased online. This includes not only online shops, but also online travel agencies and booking intermediaries. As in previous years, flight cancellations remained the most common subject of consumer contacts.

The European Consumer Centre provides consumers with information on their rights in the EU in cross-border trade issues and offers free advice and mediation in individual disputes between consumers and traders in different countries in the EU, Norway and Iceland. Typical subjects include travel and online shopping.

The effects of the pandemic are still evident

In 2021, 19% of the new contacts received by the European Consumer Centre Finland were related to flight cancellations, which was the single most common subject of contacts.

Various problem situations in online shopping were seen as the most common subject of contacts after flight cancellations. Of all new contacts received in Finland in 2021, 15% were related to situations involving an undelivered product and 13% a non-conformity or defective product.

However, the total number of contacts decreased by about 20% compared to the previous year, and the proportion of flight-related subjects decreased slightly from the previous year. The decrease in the number of contacts shows the impact of the pandemic on the volume of air travel. This can also be seen in the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net). Last year, the network’s 29 offices received approximately 128,000 contacts from European consumers. The number of contacts decreased by 25% compared to the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was otherwise a record year in the entire 16-year history of the network. Air travel also remained a top subject at the ECC-Net level.

In cases of flight cancellation, consumers often have a clear right to compensation, but refunds from the airline or flight intermediaries which sold the tickets take a long time. European Consumer Centres do not have coercive measures at their disposal, so they can only advise on and mediate disputes and, if necessary, direct consumers to, for example, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies, which do not offer rapid solutions to a given situation, either.

More extensive attention has been paid to the problems and EU consumer protection authorities, together with the Commission, intervened in airline practices, thus leading to a commitment made by sixteen European airlines in the autumn of 2021 to improve their refund and voucher practices for cancelled flights.

In which countries were the companies receiving the most complaints located?

As in previous years, companies which Finnish consumers had had problems with were often located in nearby countries, i.e. Sweden (14% of cases) and Germany (11%) as well as in one of the most popular travel destinations among Finns, Spain (7%).

With regard to these countries, the primary issue is different online travel agencies or booking intermediaries and airlines, which consumers had questions about or experienced problems with in situations such as receiving refund for cancelled flights. As in previous years, there is also a wide variety of online shops in Germany-related consumer contacts.

Norway dropped off the list of top countries, only appearing in 6% of the contacts (in 2020: 11%). This is also attributable to the decrease in air travel.

The number of contacts concerning companies located outside the European Union amounted to 8%. This percentage remained the same compared to the previous year. The largest of the non-EU countries were China with 23% (2020: 17%) and the United States with 13% (2020: 15%). As the European Consumer Centre does not have the power to mediate consumer disputes outside the EU, in such cases consumers can mostly be offered general advice.

Updated website and a new complaint form streamline services

In 2021, the European Consumer Centre website ecc.fi was updated and, at the end of the year, a new complaint form was integrated with the case processing system of the ECC-Net in order to streamline use of services. The new website also contains more complaint templates for consumer use in different situations along with FAQs and the answers to them. The development of the online service and the drafting of language versions will continue throughout the spring 2022.

In Finland, the European Consumer Centre is part of the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) and works in close co-operation with the Consumer Ombudsman and national Consumer Advisory Services.