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What is the European Union doing to protect air passenger rights?

The European Union (EU) has legislation in place to protect our rights when travelling by plane. The European Parliament has advocated a higher level of protection for many years, and in the context of the Covid‑19 pandemic, the European Commission has taken steps to ensure air passengers’ rights remain protected.

EU legislation

Sad (tired) woman sitting in the airport - missed or cancelled flight concept.

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Should you be denied boarding, or your flight is cancelled or considerably delayed, common rules on compensation and assistance for passengers and minimum rights are established in the Flight Compensation Regulation.

As package travel may include air travel, air passenger rights are also covered by the Package Travel Directive, which aims at achieving a high and as uniform as possible level of consumer protection. Additionally, air carriers’ liability for transporting your luggage is specifically addressed in a Council Regulation on the carriage of passengers and their baggage by air.

European Parliament seeks better protection for air passengers

With the aim of improving information for passengers in the event of delays and clarifying the rules on compensation, as well as to give air carriers more certainty as to the law, the European Commission presented a proposal to review the rules on air passenger rights, in 2013.

However, the European Parliament, in a 2014 resolution on this proposal, asked for additional provisions. These include: ensuring that there is an airline contact person at the airport in the event of problems; further cabin luggage allowances; higher amounts for compensation in the event of delay; an exhaustive list of extraordinary circumstances in which compensation does not have to be paid; and guarantee mechanisms against air carrier bankruptcy. The Parliament reiterated its position in a 2019 resolution. The Council has not yet adopted a position on the proposal. After years of stalling, discussions reopened in 2019.

Coronavirus pandemic

The European Union has undertaken several steps to guarantee that passenger rights are applied coherently and to protect passengers across all EU countries during the Covid‑19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the European Commission adopted interpretative guidelines on passenger rights regulations and issued an information note on the Package Travel Directive. The Commission recalled that, under EU legislation, passengers have the right to choose between reimbursement (e.g. in money or in the form of a voucher) and re-routing, when transport tickets (plane, train, bus/coach and ferries) or package travel are cancelled. If the airline proposes a voucher, this offer cannot affect the passenger’s right to opt for reimbursement instead. The EU rules also set a deadline by when reimbursement is due: within seven days (following the passenger’s request) for air transport and within fourteen days after termination of a package travel contract.

The European Parliament called on the Commission to make sure these interpretative guidelines are properly implemented in the context of the developing Covid‑19 situation in a resolution of 17 April 2020.

The Commission subsequently reaffirmed passenger rights in a recommendation adopted on 13 May 2020, which aims to make travel vouchers an attractive alternative to reimbursement for cancelled trips. Vouchers should have a minimum validity period of one year and should be reimbursed at the latest fourteen days after the end of the validity period if the voucher has not been used.

Compensation in local currency

In September 2020, the European Court of Justice concluded that compensation awarded to air passengers under the Regulation may be paid in the national currency of the place of residence and not only in euro.

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