Tuesday, 17 September 2013

European Parliament intends to strengthen air passengers' rights

Yesterday the European Parliament's Transport Committee debated on the European Commission's proposal for a new Regulation No 261/2004 (see our previous post: Passenger rights, work in progress and 101 on air passengers' rights proposal). There is a possibility that the rules would be made more consumers-friendly (see the report). 

As far as monetary compensations are concerned, the Commission's proposal intended to allow passengers to claim compensation in case of a delay on European flights and short international flights (up to 3500 km) only if the delay was longer than 5 hours, for flights of 3500km-6000km when the delay was longer than 9 hours and for the remaining flights when the delay was longer than 12 hours. The Parliament's rapporteur argues for keeping the 3 hours delay standard as allowing for compensation claims of 300 Euro (for flights up to 3500km), and for all remaining . flights the compensation of 600 Euro would be granted for delays of at least 5 hours (Amendment 47-49; 58-59) As a reminder, currently passengers may claim compensation for a delay longer than 3 hours in the following amounts: 250 Euro - when the flight was short (up to 1500 km), 400 Euro - when the flight was for a distance between 1500km and 3500km, and 600 Euro for all remaining distances. Additionally, the limit of 100 Euro per night per person for accommodation was raised to 125 Euro, in case the flight cannot take place due to extraordinary circumstances and passengers need to stay overnight at their departure point. More importantly, the Parliament's rapporteur believes that there should not be a limit to the number of nights that would be compensated, unless the passenger organizes his accommodation himself (and only then the limit is set at 3 nights). (Amendment 69)

Moreover, the Parliament's rapporteur suggests that the definition of a 'ticket price' should encompass the following: "The ticket price always includes costs for the check-in, the provision of the tickets and the issuing of the boarding card, the carrying of a minimum luggage allowance and essential items, as well as all costs related to payment, such as credit card costs". (Amendment 25) The definition of 'denied boarding' should encompass cases in which the flight's departure time has been moved forward, due to which passengers might have missed that flight. (Amendment 23) On the other hand, the definition of 'tarmac delay' was changed so that the delay is not counted from the start but rather from the end of the boarding process of passengers. (Amendment 27) The Regulation's scope excludes such air travel that allows passengers to travel for free or at a reduced fare not available to public, which doesn't, however, apply to air tickets issued under a frequent flyer programme or other commercial programmes of air carriers. (Amendment 29) This provision could exclude such passengers from its benefits who have won free air tickets in competitions.

The Parliament's review upholds the Commission's proposal to grant passengers a right to use their return ticket in case they have not take the outward journey, also in case when they were denied boarding on the outward journey. (Amendment 33) The right to have the spelling mistakes on a boarding card/ air ticket corrected is upheld as well - up until 48 hours before departure without any additional charge. (Amendment 34)

Amendment 37 intends to strengthen information rights in case of flight cancellation by stating that passengers should be fully informed of their rights and of possible alternative transport modes. Amendment 38 clarifies the definition of 'extraordinary circumstances' that allows air carriers to forgo payment of compensation by clearly insisting that two conditions need to be fulfilled cumulatively: the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances AND it could not have been avoided even if all measures had been correctly taken. As the rapporteur states: "The word ‘correctly’ leaves less room for interpretation regarding all measures that need to be taken in order to avoid cancellation."

The Commission's suggestion that contingency plans should be created by airport management for cases of multiple flight cancellations has been adjusted in favour of consumers, as well. Such plans would now have to be created for airports with an annual traffic of 1.5 million passengers (instead of originally suggested 3 million). (Amendment 39) Additionally, the proposal suggests that air carriers provide proof of sufficient insurance to ascertain that they would be able to reimburse passengers in case of their insolvency. (Amendment 42)

The passengers right to disembark the plane when the flight was delayed for at least 5 hours on the tarmac has been strengthened by reducing the time allowing for such disembarkation to 2 hours. (Amendment 51) The passenger who misses a connecting flight as a result of delay etc. of the previous flight, should be offered assistance, compensation etc. by the air carrier of the delayed flight. (Amendment 52) The passengers are also granted a new right to organise their own re-rerouting and then to claim compensation therefor if the air carrier fails to offer the choice of re-rerouting . (Amendment 65)

The Transport Committee will vote on this report on 14 November. (Strengthening air passengers' rights while providing legal clarity to airlines)

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