On 13 March 2013 the European Commission announced a package of measures to ensure that air passengers have new and better rights to information, care and re-routing when they are stranded at the airport. At the same time there will be better complaint procedures and enforcement measures so passengers can actually obtain the rights to which they are entitled. The air passenger rights proposal clarifies legal grey areas and introduces new rights where necessary.
Not only on paper
According to transport Commissioner Siim Kallas it is very important that passenger rights do not just exist on paper. “We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most – when things go wrong. We know that the real priority for stranded passengers is just to get home. So our focus is on information, care and effective rerouting. The aim is to get passengers where they want to be as quickly as possible while giving the airlines the time they need to sort problems out.”
Four key areas
The proposal updates passenger rights in four key areas:
1. Clarifying Grey Areas: rights to information on delayed or cancelled flights; extraordinary circumstances; rights in relation to long delays and tarmac delays; contingency planning; rights to re-routing and rights on connecting flights.
2. New Rights: in the case of rescheduling; misspelt names; new rights with regard to mishandled baggage and transparency requirements for cabin and checked luggage.
3. Enforcement, Complaint-Procedures and Sanctioning: strengthening oversight of air carriers by national and European authorities (monitoring and joint investigations); as well as for complaint handling and enforcing individual rights (including a requirement on airlines to reply to complaints within two months); insolvency.
4. Disproportionate Financial Burden: limits to assistance; limits for regional operations; sharing the economic burden.
The first reactions were already heard on the same day
MEP Mathieu Grosch of the EEP Group declared that “in the past, air passengers had to appeal to court in some cases when they wanted to clarify and enforce their rights to assistance or compensation when their flight was cancelled or delayed. In the new proposal, the Commission has taken into account the rulings of the European Court of Justice. The EPP Group therefore welcomes the European Commission’s proposal”.
The Association of European Airlines called the proposed new passenger rights regulation a step in the right direction but highlighted that some concerns still remain. The AEA welcomed the fact that the European Commission has reviewed the existing regulation, which has been challenged by both airlines and passengers, with an exceptional number of cases having been referred to the European Court of Justice for clarification. The AEA voiced concerns about proposals such as the fact that technical problems are not considered as extraordinary circumstances, as well as the potential costs and the administrative and operational burden on the industry.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reacted with disappointment to the European Commission’s proposed revisions to its passenger rights legislation (EC Regulation 261 or EC 261). There are some positive aspects to the Commission’s review but overall the package of proposed changes will still leave major deficiencies in the legislation. Many of the proposed changes will be difficult for governments to enforce, add unnecessary costs and incentivize behaviors by industry that will be ultimately detrimental to the interest of passengers.
The European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) has welcomed the European Commission’s decision to clarify the rules governing air passenger rights. Successive interpretations by the courts of the poorly-worded existing Regulation 261/2004 have progressively eroded any balance between detriment to the minority of consumers, affected by flight irregularities, and the burden on airlines, which necessarily results in increased air fares for all passengers…
The plans for passengers’ rights represent the biggest reform to EU aviation rules since they were introduced eight years ago. Subject to the approval to member states and the European parliament, the new laws are due to come into force in early 2015.
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights (OJ 2004 L 46, p. 1).
Air Passengers’ rights: Overview of case law (internal link)
European Parliament Library summaries:
Flight cancelled or delayed: the difference matters! (internal link)
Information on air passengers in the EP library (internal link)