The liberalisation of the European air transport market has generated significant benefits for consumers: a wider choice of air services and intense price competition between air carriers, which has resulted in significantly lower fares. To limit any potential negative impacts that this might have on the quality of service delivered to air passengers and consumers, a number of measures have been taken at European Union level to protect them. The most significant of these, Regulation (EC) 261/2004, introduced rules on compensation and assistance in the event of denied boarding, cancellations, long delays and involuntary downgrading.
A number of other key legislative texts provide a European framework for the establishment and protection of passenger rights for air travellers. However, there is consensus among the industry, regulators and passengers that there are issues with the application and enforcement of some areas of air passenger rights, particularly those stemming from Regulation (EC) 261/2004. In March 2013, the Commission proposed a revision of Regulation (EC) 261/2004, but the proposal has been on hold since November 2015.
Steer completed a fact-finding study that sheds light on the main developments in air passenger rights since the Commission tabled its proposal to amend the legislation in 2013. It provides a detailed assessment of the complex situation across Europe and considers the perspective of passengers, airlines, airports and authorities. The study maps the rights that air passengers have, the protections available and the possible routes to seek redress.
Extending beyond the famous “EU261”, it also covers the rights of disabled persons and passengers with reduced mobility and the impact of airline insolvencies on passengers. Steer undertook comprehensive analysis based on industry data and consultation with more than 150 stakeholders, 70+ interviews, two large workshops and international benchmarking.
The study shows that the level of flights disrupted, in terms of cancellations and delays over two hours, has increased significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, although it remains difficult for passengers who experience disruption to enforce their rights due to the complexity of the regulatory setting and the lack of information, the burden faced by airlines in fulfilling their passenger rights obligations has grown, driven by the increased levels of disruption and rising claim rates.
The Commission will use the findings of the study to support the relaunch of discussions for the reform of air passenger rights rules, to ensure that they are easily understandable and provide legal certainty to passengers, the industry and the competent authorities.
Steer’s report is available on the European Commission’s website (PDF).