Wednesday, April 10, 2013


European Airline Passengers Flying High with Enhanced Legal Rights


Who amongst us has not been inconvenienced due to flight delays or paid heavy penalties for checked luggage or correcting misspelt names on tickets?

Good news! New rights for airline passengers have recently been unveiled by the European Commission to address the most common airline practices that regularly frustrate travelers around the globe. The proposal, which requires approval by a majority of the Union's 27 member countries, also aims to address some concerns of the airline industry as they struggle to remain competitive in an ever more challenging environment.

Gianluca Meranda, partner at SQ Law and an expert in aviation law, confirms the importance of this law to balance the concerns of both sides of the debate; "The lack of clarity in the current law has caused unnecessary challenges for passengers and the aviation industry alike. We have represented both over the years and welcome this increased transparency." Meranda continues "Enforcement of the law has been a thorny issue, and these new rules should provide greater protection for consumers, greater powers to authorities in applying the law, and increased operational efficiencies for airlines."

Passenger Protections

They would compel airlines to provide information and benefits when flights are delayed.

Passengers, for example, would be entitled to know what is happening after a 30-minute flight delay. They would also have a right to food and water after two hours of waiting, even if already on board the plane.


Airlines would have to provide alternative travel routes within 12 hours, even if it means travel with another airline.


The new rules will also clarify what are known as "extraordinary circumstances" for compensation: only natural disasters and air traffic control strikes can be defined as extraordinary, but technical problems identified during routine aircraft maintenance cannot.

Pan-European View

According to the European Consumer Centre, complaints about airlines increased across Europe by 96% between 2006 and 2010. The number rose significantly following the disruption to flights due to the Icelandic volcanic eruption in April 2010.

A recent survey in Germany found that more than 20% of passengers received no response after filing a complaint with an airline. Only 2 to 4% of passengers surveyed in Denmark received compensation to which they were entitled.


EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas argues that the improved measures would also increase competition. "These rules only apply if you are on a European carrier. So my message is "Fly European," Kallas stated.


Aviation Industry Protections

Not all the changes, however, favour passengers. Airlines have successfully argued they should not be liable for unlimited hotel bills for delayed customers. Under the new measures, airlines will have to pay for a maximum of three nights' hotel accommodation. Exceptions will be made for passengers with reduced mobility, unaccompanied children, or pregnant women.


Airlines will no longer have to pay compensation for delays or cancellations caused by severe weather or strikes, although their obligation to provide care – such as hotel accommodation for stranded passengers – will remain.


Another concession is that airlines will not have to pay compensation until a flight is delayed by at least five hours – two hours more than at present.


Underpinning the changes is the belief that simplifying and clarifying the rules will bring an end to prolonged litigation with airlines challenging the provisions of ambiguous EU rules in the courts.


Today, some national laws may hinder air carriers from seeking redress from third parties responsible for the flight disruption.  This proposal lifts national restrictions on air carriers' right to seek compensation from responsible third parties; including airport authorities, traffic controllers and ground handlers, among others.


Eight years after the EU introduced its passenger rights legislation, the general public still does not fully understand the law; nor the potential repercussions if airlines are stretched too thin (increased airline ticket costs, for example).

According to SQ Law's Gianluca Meranda these new rules can serve to strengthen the competitiveness of the European aviation industry ('fly Europe to receive privileged protections') while at the same time supporting the interests of all consumers. "By focusing on transparency, compliance, and regulatory conditions that can stimulate investment, comprehensive and coherent regulation can benefit not only passengers but the aviation industry as a whole", concludes Meranda.

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