Members' Research Service By / July 24, 2017

Passenger rights in the EU [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Damiano Scordamaglia, Over the past 20 years, EU passenger transport has been growing. With a much wider choice…

© Rawpixel / Fotolia

Written by Damiano Scordamaglia,

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© Rawpixel / Fotolia

Over the past 20 years, EU passenger transport has been growing. With a much wider choice of transport operators, passengers should benefit from the same standards of treatment across modes and EU Member States, and clearly understand their legitimate rights and how to exercise them.


The EU has adopted a common set of basic rights to protect and assist passengers, regardless of how they travel. Passenger rights, including special provisions for persons with disabilities or reduced mobility, facilitate mobility and support an internal market for transport. In 2004, air transport was the first mode to have regulated passenger rights, followed by rail (with national exemptions), waterborne transport, and finally bus and coach services in 2011. Additional rights derive from EU consumer protection rules, package travel provisions, applicable international conventions and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The core of passenger rights

Core passenger rights focus on three main aspects: non-discrimination, information and assistance.

Main passenger rights

  • Equal access to transport for all passengers: any discrimination based on nationality, place of residence or disability is prohibited, for instance denying boarding or access to travel operator websites.
  • Mobility and assistance for travellers with reduced mobility: disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility can get assistance in accessing transport means and on board at no additional cost.
  • Information: passengers must have transparent information on the cost, features and rights included in their ticket, as well as on progress before and during their trip. Passengers must be notified of disruptions as soon as possible in rail, and at latest 30 minutes after scheduled departure in waterborne and bus transport.
  • Reimbursement, rerouting or rebooking: in the event of cancelled or delayed travel (1 h in rail, 1.30 h in waterborne, 2 h in buses for services longer than 250 km, and 5 h in air) or denied boarding, passengers may choose between reimbursement, rerouting to the final destination at no extra cost or rebooking at their convenience. If they cannot fulfil the purpose of their journey, passengers may also get a free ticket back to their departure point.
  • Adequate care: in case of cancellation or long delays (1 h in rail, 1.30 h in bus and waterborne, 2 h in air), passengers are entitled to meals, refreshments and, where necessary, accommodation (up to 2-3 days depending on transport mode). Care must be provided in stations/terminals and/or on board.
  • Compensation: in the event of long delays at arrival and depending on the mode used, the ticket price and the distance travelled, passengers may get financial compensation to reduce the inconvenience suffered.
  • Liability towards passengers and luggage: passengers are entitled to compensation for luggage or belongings lost or damaged in an accident involving the travel mode they are using. In case of passenger injury or death, compensation is also provided for, and in some cases, also an advance payment on this.
  • Complaint handling: passengers my lodge a complaint with the carrier. If they are dissatisfied by the carrier’s answer, they can turn to the competent national enforcement body.

EU passenger rights laws are being updated or modified: a revision of passenger rights in air is being discussed, and new proposals on rail are expected in 2017. For 2018, the European Commission plans an initiative to give adequate protection to the rights of passengers using two or more modes on segments of a single journey.

This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

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