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Vote in European Parliament on air passenger rights

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Today, the European Parliament again voted on the proposed amendments of the Regulation that protects air passengers in case of flight delays. Very few consumers are aware of the entitlement to compensation that applies to delays and cancellations; in addition, actually obtaining compensation from airlines is a complicated process, the Parliament concluded today. This must be improved and in order to do so, legislation will be amended.

Better information for air passengers, offering care and alternative flights to stranded travellers, and improving the procedures to obtain compensation: these are the main issues the vote was taken on today. The objective of today's plenary session was to establish the Parliament's position on the proposals previously presented by the European Commission and the Transport Committee. The outcome confirms that the Parliament wants to ensure passenger rights are protected.

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'Technical errors' is the reason most used to reject compensation requests by airlines. The new legislation will lead to a more stringent enforcement of Regulation: the European Parliament wants to put guidelines in place in order to ensure the excuse of technical errors cannot be misused on the present scale. Composing a list of what precisely does and does not constitute an extraordinary circumstance and therefore force majeure will be key in achieving this.

The Parliament proposes to keep the current minimal threshold to qualify for compensation at 3 hours. The European Commission previously proposed to lower this threshold to 5 hours.

Another problem was identified with the functioning of the national enforcement bodies. When a passenger is unable to resolve an issue directly with the airline, he can contact one of the European enforcement authorities. But these enforcement bodies often do not function properly. As a result, the passenger cannot get the required help from an objective authority and generally has to bring his claim before a judge in order to get compensation. The Parliament wants to change this and proposes to extend the enforcement bodies' means to enforce their decisions and fine airlines. The bodies' performance itself will also be monitored more closely and there will be closer cooperation between the European authorities.

Improvements for air passengers

"Air passenger rights concern practically every citizen of the European Union. It's a David vs. Goliath story, as only 2% of passengers actually get compensation after filing a complaint against an airline. I believe that the text we have voted today strikes a reasonable balance between the airlines and the passenger rights. We improved consumer protection on the one hand while recognising the flexibility that this industry requires, on the other", said rapporteur Georges Bach (EPP, LU).

The Parliament could have chosen to extend air passenger rights even further. However, today's vote is an important step in the right direction of enforcing passenger rights. Key is making sure that passengers will be able to obtain compensation more easily in the future. Presently, this isn't happening, and the 2%-figure is an indication of that.

Introduction new legislation

As expected, today's vote revealed a position in line with that of previous sessions: a majority of 580 members voted in favour and 41 against the proposal, with 48 abstentions.

The European Parliament will now start the negotiations with the Council about the proposal. Member States will meet in the Transport Council in June with a view to agreeing a position on the revision of the Air Passenger Rights Directive. When the legislation will be presented and when it will come into force is still unknown.

Written by: Team