Someone I know booked a return flight on Air Serbia from Vienna to Podgorica (Montenegro) via Belgrade, departing on 6 March 2020 and returning on 14 March 2020. On 10 March 2020, Air Serbia cancelled the return leg from Belgrade to Vienna without explanation; the passenger contacted Air Serbia by phone, who rebooked them on the next available flight, 24 hours later than the original return date. Air Serbia told them on the phone that reasonable transport, meal, and accommodation costs for the unplanned overnight stay in Belgrade would be compensated.
According to Air Serbia's statement of passenger rights*, the EU Regulation 261/2004 on flight compensation is integrated into Serbian law, so we assume that the passenger is entitled not only to the costs for the stay in Belgrade, but also €250 in compensation for the cancelled flight.
The passenger accordingly made a claim for compensation (both the overnight expenses and the €250 cancellation award) using Air Serbia's online form*, including all the relevant travel information and documentation (receipts, etc.). Air Serbia just now rejected the claim as follows:
Thank you for your patience while the claim relating to your journey from BEG to PRG on 14.3.2020 was processed.
After carefully reviewing your claim, I regret to inform you that we are not able to provide compensation in this case. This decision was reached taking into account the specific circumstances of your case, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please note that the decision is final.
We’re sorry that our service on 14.3.2020 did not meet your expectations and hope that we can look forward to welcoming you on-board an Air Serbia flight in the future.
We are skeptical about this rejection for the following reasons:
On the phone, Air Serbia had already promised compensation at least for the transport, accommodation, and meals in Belgrade.
Air Serbia cancelled the flight before the governments of Serbia and Austria had imposed any restrictions on foreign travel relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
At no time before now had Air Serbia indicated that the cancellation was due to the pandemic.
According to the answer to another Covid-19–related question here (May I get a refund for a flight cancelled because of COVID-19?), "under EU rules you always get a refund".
We would therefore like answers to the following:
Under Serbian or EU law (whichever is applicable in our case), is the passenger in fact entitled to compensation in this case?
If the answer to the previous question is "yes", then can the passenger appeal to the national enforcement body in Austria, given that she bought the ticket and is resident there?
* Note that due to Air Serbia's broken website, you may need to follow that link twice before the correct page appears. It seems that first-time visitors to the website are always redirected to its home page.