European Commission Proposes New Rights for Airline Passengers

The European Commission has proposed additions and revisions to the Air Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004 — which was originally introduced in 2005 to address and establish minimum levels of assistance and compensation for passengers who were denied boarding or affected by long delays or cancellations — reportedly designed to reduce or eliminate the frustration and difficulty of officially claiming and invoking their rights when airlines do not seem to apply them.

European Commission Proposes New Rights for Airline Passengers

The changes to the policies providing rights to airline passengers in Europe — unlikely to become law until next year at a minimum — include the following:

  • Financial compensation for passengers would be effective after a minimum delay of:
    • Five hours on any flight within the European Union or on international flights up to 3,500 kilometers in length — the current minimum delay is three hours
    • Nine hours on international flights up to 6,000 kilometers in length
    • Twelve hours on international flights greater than 6,000 kilometers in length
  • A passenger who misses his or her connecting flight due to the delay of his or her first flight will receive assistance after two hours and financial compensation if the delay at arrival is greater than:
    • Five hours for all flights within the European Union and short international flights of fewer than 3,500 kilometers
    • Nine hours for international flights of fewer than 6,000 kilometers
    • Twelve hours for international flights of greater than 6,000 kilometers
  • Passengers whose flights have been rescheduled fewer than two weeks before its original departure time will enjoy similar rights as passengers of delayed or canceled flights
  • Passengers must be informed by the airline of information pertaining to a delayed or canceled flight as soon as possible — and in any event no later than 30 minutes after the departure time originally scheduled for the flight — and the estimated actual departure time for the flight must be announced as soon as possible
  • In addition to the right to refreshments and sustenance — as well as the right to renounce the flight and request disembarkation of the aircraft — after the aircraft has been on the tarmac for a minimum of five hours, passengers will also have the right after a minimum delay of one hour on the tarmac to drinking water, the use of toilets, medical assistance, and proper climate conditions such as air conditioning and heat
  • The correction of spelling mistakes of the name of a passenger may be requested by that passenger as a complimentary service by the airline within 48 hours in advance of departure — airlines can no longer charge passengers for this service within 48 hours in advance of departure
  • Airlines must offer re-routing options to its passengers when they cannot ensure those options on its own services within 12 hours
  • Passengers may not be denied boarding on the return flight of his or her ticket on the grounds that he or she did not take the outbound part of the return ticket
  • Clear procedures on how to submit complaints will be provided by the airline
  • Airlines will be limited to provide lodging accommodations of up to a maximum of three nights under exceptional circumstances — the current rules provide for an “indefinite period of time” over which airlines have cited disproportional costs which potentially threatened their financial survival — to all passengers, except those passengers with reduced mobility, persons accompanying them, unaccompanied children, pregnant women and persons with specific medical needs

Extraordinary circumstances will also be more clearly defined. In the past, airlines were able to finagle their way out of compensation to their passengers due to lack of clarification. While labor disputes by air traffic controllers and natural disasters will clearly be defined as extraordinary circumstances, irregular operations due to mechanical issues will not.

Although 75 percent of the passengers surveyed who experienced problems for delays or cancellations were offered re-routing  — allowing them to pursue their travel plans accordingly, as stated by the responses of surveys provided by Verbraucherzentrale Brandenburg, the Danish Consumer Council, Which? and the Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom — other forms of care such as meals, refreshment and accommodation was offered in fewer than 50 percent of cases. Only a fraction of the surveyed passengers that were entitled to financial compensation received it — between two percent and four percent of the time, according to the Danish survey — while the results of the German survey showed that where passengers complained, greater than 20 percent of them did not receive a response from the airline.

The European Commission outlined four reasons which contributed to the failure to provide passengers the rights they deserve:

  1. Legal “grey areas” — The lack of definitions and unclear provisions in the text of Regulation 261/2004 leave grey zones in the passengers’ rights, which has led to inconsistencies and loose standards in the application of the law
  2. Complaint handling — Passengers encounter difficulties in enforcing their rights as the procedures of the handling of passenger complaints by airlines are either poorly defined or because there is no official complaint handling body on which affected passengers can depend and rely.
  3. Sanctioning — Inconsistent or insufficiently effective sanctioning policies by national authorities do not give sufficient incentives for compliance by airlines to their passengers
  4. Disproportionate financial costs — The financial cost of some of the obligations imposed by the Regulation may become disproportionate for the airlines in certain circumstances — for example, unlimited provision of accommodations in exceptional circumstances, such as the ash cloud caused by volcanic activity in Iceland in April of 2010.

Summary

Reaction to the proposed new rights for airline passengers is dependent upon how each FlyerTalk member is affected — although many seem to be in favor.

A link to the actual press release by the European Commission — if you want to print out the comparison chart shown below of the rules today compared to the proposed changes, as well as additional information about the proposal — is included in this FlyerTalk discussion.

This chart — courtesy of a press release by the European Commission — compares the ten current basic rights of passengers to what is being proposed for 2014. Click on the chart above to access the discussion on FlyerTalk with a link to the official press release.

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