Air Passenger Rights: New Rules

Air passengers should be guaranteed better access to information and offered care and the possibility of re-routing if they find themselves stranded at the airport.

These are among the key points of a newly proposed regulation on air passenger rights, which also aims to strengthen passenger rights over mishandled baggage and establish more effective complaint procedures.

Context

The EU's Air Passenger Rights Regulation, which came into force in February 2005, established minimum levels of assistance and compensation for passengers denied boarding or affected by long delays or cancellations.

These rules have resulted in a significant change in behaviour in the airline industry, and ensured fairer treatment for passengers when they travel.

However, the Commission now believes that the limits of non-legislative action - such as guidelines and voluntary agreements - have been reached, and that a revision of the legislation is necessary to ensure that passenger rights work in practice as they should.

In addition, passengers still have difficulty claiming their rights and are often left feeling frustrated when air carriers do not appear to apply them.

The new Commission Regulation would amend the 2004 Regulation which established minimum levels of compensation and assistance for passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or long delay of flights. It would also amend the 1997 Regulation on air carrier liability in respect of the carriage of passengers and their baggage by air. This Regulation is a translation into EU law of the Montreal Convention on international carriage by air.

Amendments to the 2004 Regulation

Achieving greater clarity

In order to increase legal certainty, the new proposal defines the concept of “extraordinary circumstances” as those which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control.

Passengers that have booked their air transport as part of a package travel are covered by the new Regulation. Passengers should not be denied boarding on the return journey of a two-way (return) ticket because they have not taken the outward journey. Assistance and compensation will be equally guaranteed when a passenger is denied boarding at the return journey on the grounds he did not take the outward journey, or did not pay an additional charge for this purpose.

Where there is a spelling mistake in the name of a passenger that may lead to a denial of boarding, the air carrier will correct this at least once up until 48 hours before departure without any additional charge to the passenger. 

In unforeseen circumstances 

In case of flight cancellation, the operating air carrier needs to offer the passengers the choice between reimbursements, continuation of their travel by rerouting or travel at a later date. With the new proposal, this choice will become a decision of the passenger, and not of the air carrier.

At airports whose annual traffic is been more than three million passengers for at least three consecutive years, the airport managing body should prepare a contingency plan to deal with situations of multiple cancellations or delays of flights. This contingency plan is intended to coordinate operations of the airport and of airport users, ensuring adequate information and assistance to the stranded passengers.

Changing of flight schedules is considered to have a similar impact to long delays, and for this reason under the new proposal both situations give rise to equal rights to care.

The thresholds above which delays give rise to a right to compensation will increase with the new proposal, being the minimum of five hours, and increasing depending on the distance of the journey.

The new proposal also provides a definition of “tarmac delay”, which means the time the aircraft remains on the ground between the boarding of the passengers and the take-off, or between the touch-down of the aircraft and the disembarkation of the passengers.

When a tarmac delay exceeds one hour, the operating air carrier has to provide free of charge access to toilet facilities and drinking water, ensuring adequate heating or cooling of the cabin, and making available medical attention if needed. Where a tarmac delay reaches a maximum of five hours, passengers will be allowed to disembark.

The proposal also covers the situation of missing connecting flights. Affected passengers have right to assistance in similar terms to passengers affected by a delay or a schedule change, as well as shall be offered re-routing. Passengers have a right to compensation by the Community air carrier operating the preceding flight, in this case being the delay calculated by reference to the scheduled time of arrival at the final destination. Those conditions also apply to third country air carriers operating a connecting flight to or from an EU airport.

The air carrier will offer options for rerouting also by alternative services: using services operated by other air carriers, involving different routings or using other modes of transport. The other carrier or transport operator will not charge the contracting carrier a price that goes beyond the average price paid by its own passengers for equivalent services in the last three months.

Compensation

Compensation also applies to modification of scheduled times causing a compared delay to the time of arrival, unless the passenger was informed of this schedule change more than 15 days in advance.

There is no right to compensation whether the operating air carrier proves that the delay or change of schedule is caused by extraordinary circumstances, and that it could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. 

Also under the new proposal, the option to pay compensation to the passengers using travel vouchers and/or other services will be deleted.

The air carrier may reach a voluntary agreement with the passenger that replaces the conditions on compensation amounts, provided that the agreement is confirmed by a document signed by the passenger which reminds the passenger of his rights to compensation.

Air carriers have the right to seek compensation for the costs incurred from any third parties which contributed to the event triggering compensation or others obligations.

Assistance to passengers

If the operating air carrier can prove that the cancellation, delay or change of schedule is caused by extraordinary circumstances, and that it could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken, it may limit the total cost of accommodation provided to 100 euros per night and per passenger, and to a maximum to 3 nights.

The obligation to offer accommodation will not apply where the flight concerned is of 250 km or less and scheduled to be operated by an aircraft with a maximum capacity of 80 seats or less, except where the flight is a connecting flight.

Even in case of applying these limitations, the operating air carrier will still provide the passengers with information about available accommodation.

The previous limitations will not apply if the passenger is a person with reduced mobility or any person accompanying him or her, an unaccompanied child, a pregnant woman or a person in need of specific medical assistance, on condition the air carrier or its agent or the organiser has been notified of their particular needs for assistance at least 48 hours before the scheduled time of departure of the flight.

Information and complaints

General information on passenger rights has to be clearly and visible displayed within the passenger areas of the airports. Passengers will be informed about the cases of flight disruption and its causes as soon as possible. The same right to get informed applies when the passengers have acquired the tickets through an intermediary.

At the time of reservation, air carriers must provide information to passengers on their claim and complaint handling processes in relation to their rights, as well as the relevant contact addresses, to which passengers can submit claims and complaints. The air carrier will also inform passengers of the body or bodies competent for handling those complaints. I

f a passenger wants to make a complaint to the air carrier, he will have 3 months from the date on which the flight was scheduled to be performed to submit it. The carrier will confirm the receipt of the complaint to the passenger within 7 days, and will provide a full answer within two months.

Passengers may make complain about an alleged infringement to the national body designated for out-court resolution of disputes (body conceived under the provisions of the new proposal). Such complaints will be submitted at the earliest 2 months after a complaint was submitted to the concerned carrier, unless the carrier has already provided a final reply to such complaint.

Amendments to the 1997 Regulation

Complaints and compensation

Air carriers must provide complaint forms at the airport, allowing passengers to immediately submit such a complaint about damaged or delayed baggage.

In case of carrying wheelchairs or other mobility equipment or assistive devices, the air carrier will offer each person with reduced mobility the option to make, free of charge, a special declaration of interest, at booking or at the latest when the equipment is handed to the carrier. In case of damage or loss, the liability of the air carrier will be limited to the sum declared.

Baggage rights

Air carriers have full commercial freedom to establish the conditions under which they permit baggage to be carried. However, they have to clearly indicate, at booking and at the check-in desks, the maximum baggage allowance passengers are permitted to carry within the cabin and hold of the aircraft, including any restrictions on the number of items.

Where additional charges are applied for the carriage of baggage, air carriers will indicate details of them at booking and on request at the airport.

Small musical instruments may be carried in the cabin if they can be stowed safely, if they comply with the applicable safety rules and technical specifications of the aircraft concerned. Air carrier may determine that a musical instrument forms part of a passenger’s hand luggage allowance and not be carried in addition to that allowance.

When a musical instrument is too large to be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment within the cabin or under a seat, an air carrier may request the payment of a second seat. In this case the air carrier should make reasonable efforts to seat the passenger and the musical instrument concerned together. Musical instruments might be also carried in a heated part of an aircraft cargo hold. Air carriers will indicate in its terms and conditions the basis on upon which musical instruments will be transported and the applicable charges.