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The European Commission’s survey on air passenger rights

12/02/2020

The Eurobarometer survey on passenger rights in the European Union carried out by the European Commission has been published on 13 January 2020 (accessible via this link). The survey covers European citizens who have travelled by air, or long-distance rail, coach, boat or ferry in the previous 12 months. More than 27,000 European citizens took part in the survey between 19 February and 4 March 2019.

According to the Eurobarometer, less than half of European travellers are aware of their rights under EU-law. The survey focused on the disruptions faced by passengers but also on monitoring and enforcement of the European regulation, general consumer protection, international developments and airline insolvencies. The survey also reveals the air passengers’ top three priorities, namely: care and assistance to be provided in the event of travel disruption, re-routing to ensure that passengers arrive at their destination as quickly as possible, and reimbursement and/or compensation.

Air passenger rights defined at EU level in Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 must be implemented by the Member States, through the relevant competent bodies, which monitor their application by the transport service providers. This purely national control creates disparities between the different States and is, therefore, considered one of the reasons why passengers are not aware of their rights.

This is not the European Commission’s first attempt to better inform European citizens of their rights. In 2013, it launched an awareness campaign and made legislative proposals to the European Parliament and the European Council for air and rail passenger rights but these proposals have so far not succeeded.

The results of the Eurobarometer will certainly relaunch the debate and enable the Commission to put pressure on the other European institutions to take this reform forward. 

The Commission’s proposal for amending the Regulation of 2014 is intended to improve the application of air passenger rights and the monitoring of their application at national level. To this end, four options were assessed:

  • focus on economic incentives, namely the reduction of costs by replacing some of the obligations with regard to care (i.e. catering, accommodation) by the obligation for airlines to propose optional insurance to passengers;
  • balancing stronger enforcement policy with economic incentives, either by increasing the time threshold after which the passenger has a right to compensation in case of delays from the current three hours to at least five, or by extending the scope of “extraordinary circumstances” to include most technical defaults;
  • focus on stronger enforcement of the passengers rights and clarify the existing rights to render their application more effective;
  • fully centralise the enforcement policy which must counteract the negative incentives from the compliance cost.

The Commission will use the results of the survey to continue the on-going discussions on this issue with the European Parliament and the Council. Indeed, the outcome of the survey clarifies the latest developments in the field of air passenger rights and the necessary reforms. The Commission draws the attention of the public and the sector to certain alarming issues. With regard to passengers, it not only mentioned the increased number of flights disrupted, cancellations and delays of more than two hours, but also the difficulty for passengers to assert their rights because of the complexity of the regulatory framework and the lack of information. With regard to the airlines, the Commission observed that they also face additional difficulties owing to increased levels of disruptions and higher claim rates from passengers regarding cancellations (18 % in 2018 compared to 5 % in 2011) and delays (58 % in 2018 compared to 10 % in 2011).

We draw your attention to the fact that in 2016, the European Commission adopted its Interpretative Guidelines on the above-mentioned Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 and Council Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 on air carrier liability in the event of accidents, as amended by Regulation (EC) No 889/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council (accessible via this link). These Guidelines aim to codify the abundant European case law on the application of these Regulations.

To conclude, the Commission has one objective: to make the European rules on air passenger rights understandable and to provide legal certainty not only for the passengers but also for the industry and the competent national authorities.
 

Authors

Picture of Annabelle Lepièce
Annabelle Lepièce
Partner
Brussels
Marie Vandenneucker
Junior Associate
Brussels