As of 17 Febuary, citizens will enjoy new rights when flying. Thanks to a new Regulation applicable in all the Member States, greater protection is being afforded to air passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellation or long delays.
As Jacques Barrot, European Commission Vice-President responsible for Transport, has noted: “The boom in air travel needs to be accompanied by proper protection of passengers’ rights. This is a concrete example of how the Union benefits people’s daily lives. Competitiveness and competition in the air sector go hand in hand with guaranteed passengers’ rights.”
Despite the efforts of the air industry, passengers sometimes have difficulty enforcing their rights when they encounter inconvenience during air travel. For instance, more than five million pieces of luggage were lost or damaged in 2004 by European airlines and 250 000 passengers were denied boarding in 2002.
The new Regulation enters into force tomorrow, introducing very significant improvements to the protection of air passengers’ rights in the Union. It should help bring about a dramatic reduction in the frequency of denied boarding, for which airlines will have to pay compensation as a deterrent (€250 for flights of less than 1Ê500Êkm, €400 for flights of between 1Ê500 and 3Ê500Êkm and €600 for flights of more than 3Ê500Êkm). Passengers will be compensated for late cancellation and will receive assistance in the event of long delays. There is no right to compensation for cancellation if the airline can provide evidence of extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.
The Regulation applies to all flights, including charters, operated by European airlines from or to a European airport and to any flight departing from the European Union. The Commission is certain that the application of these new rights will considerably improve the quality of service that European airlines provide to their customers. This will make those airlines more competitive.
Passengers must be properly informed if they are to enforce their rights effectively. The European Commission has therefore decided to launch an information campaign at airports and travel agencies across the European Union. Airlines too are obliged to inform passengers about their rights.
The new Regulation also requires each State to set up an independent body responsible for dealing with passengers’ complaints and any disputes they may have with airlines, which will help to avoid long and expensive court cases.
To date, only 15 States have established such a body: the Commission will refer the matter to the Court of Justice if the other States fail to comply. Furthermore, the Commission is ready to advise passengers and follow up cases where their rights have not been respected. Indeed, over the last 3 years the Commission has already looked into more than 2 000 complaints lodged with it.