Flight safety under pressure through claims by plane delay!
Is this really true or just a good example of smart marketing and lobbying of the airlines? The penny has dropped at the airline companies: they have to pay damages if their flights are delayed by 3 hours or more. Instead of dealing with these damages in a correct way, flight safety is jeopardized. Airlines say they have to make a tradeoff to avoid delays. In order to avoid a delay, an airline might choose not to make a stop to refuel. This is dangerous. Air traffic in Europe is extremely high, so this is not a good development.
Why are these stories suddenly appearing? Airline companies do not want to upset their passengers, right?
To understand the bigger picture, it is useful to get some background information. As of 2004, European legislation exists that protects air passengers in cases of cancellation, overbooking and delays. In the case of overbooking and cancellation, you are entitled to a financial compensation, while in the case of a delay passengers are entitled to assistance only. This is why airline companies ‘prefer’ a delay over a cancellation. In 2009, the European Court ruled that a delay of three hours and up is equal to a cancellation. This so-called Sturgeon verdict entitles passengers to compensation up to £480. Understandibly, airline companies weren't pleased with this verdict. Since the verdict, they have been frustrating every request for compensation, and 95% of all claims is rejected directly. It does take some time, and we experience this every day at Fight Delayed. Airline companies wanted more clarity, and even preferred to cancel the entire compensation regulation. Some judges, for example in Germany and England, posed some preliminary questions. These are questions to obtain more information about the compensation regulation. The European Court will make a decision soon, one that has been long overdue since trouble began in 2009.
On May 15th, the Advocate-General for the European Court in Luxembourg, Yves Bot, advised the European Court to maintain current legislation and let the airline companies pay in case of prolonged delays.
Is this judgment so unfortunate that it would jeopardize air passengers' rights?
There is so much pressure that Mr. Bot did bear the flight safety in mind when making this judgment. In this decision and hence advice, he also mentioned not to know any reason why to deviate from current legislation. Yves Bot has a high position in court and this means that the end is near. It is not just a simple decision.
It is no surprise that airline companies reveal these kinds of messages now, as they really want to stop the compensation regulation (EC) no. 261/2004. If they have to pay in case of flight delays, it will cost them tons of money. They are attempting to stop this by lobbying to political parties in Brussels. Many CEOs of airline companies have even gone to Brussels to stress the aviation industry's point of view, because it would be in their favour to reopen political and social discussions. Politicians may fear that delays and flight safety are interrelated, and this might result in a withdrawal or modification of present legislation in fear of what might happen if they don't.
However, most of the decisions that cause a delay are of commercial or operational nature. The slots that airplanes have to take off from the runway are short, fuel is expensive and if technical problems occur, the necessary time to repair the problems is not available without causing delays or even cancellations. People still prioritize their own safety over costs, and this is exactly the kind of reasoning the airline companies use to advance their positions.
Many people think that this compensation regulation, and hence all of the claims that will ensue, will end up driving up ticket prices that will end up having to be paid by passengers. But this would in fact be the optimal solution, because the increase will only be a tiny one. High percentages of delays are often in the news. The high number, however, is partly due to the enormous amount of flights and passengers in Europe. Yearly, there are about 1,5 billion air passengers, and the estimation of how much airline companies have to pay is equal, i.e. 1,5 billion euro. In other words: if ticket prices would be increased by one euro each, the entire problem would be solved. A perfect solution, if you ask us.