How is the EU reforming air passenger rights?

Zaventem Airport

Copyright European Parliament

Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament to request information about their rights as passengers. Ongoing legislative framework reform intends to clarify certain aspects of air passenger rights, to ensure a better application of the regulation.

Two sets of legislation set out EU air passenger rights. Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, indicates the minimum rights for passengers when they are denied boarding against their will, their flight is cancelled or their flight is delayed. Council Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 determines air carrier liability in the event of accidents, (amended by Regulation (EC) No 889/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council), in respect of the carriage of passengers and their baggage by air.

Reform of air passengers rights legislation

That grey zones, gaps in the current text, and varied enforcement in the Member States, led to different interpretations of the provisions of Regulation 261/2004 was highlighted in a European Commission communication of 11 April 2011. Furthermore, the communication revealed that it is difficult for passengers to assert their individual rights.

On 29 March 2012, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in response to this communication. The Parliament highlighted the measures that it considered essential to regain passengers’ trust, in particular proper application of the existing rules by Member States and air carriers, enforcement of sufficient and simple means of redress, and providing passengers with accurate information on their rights.

The European Commission therefore launched a proposal in March 2013 to review these rules on air passenger rights, with the aim of improving passenger information in the event of delays and clarifying the rules on compensation, as well as updating these rules to give air carriers more certainty as to the law.

As part of the EU ordinary legislative procedure, following discussions in the Council and a debate in the European Parliament, the Parliament adopted a resolution on 5 February 2014, in which the Parliament asks for additional provisions such as:

– an airline contact person present at the airport in the event of problems,

– further cabin luggage allowances,

– higher amounts of compensation in the event of delay,

– an exhaustive list of extraordinary circumstances in which compensation does not have to be paid, and

– guarantee mechanisms against air carrier bankruptcy.

Further details on this resolution are available in a European Parliament press release and a background note of February 2014. The vote on 5 February 2014 constitutes the European Parliament’s first-reading position, which the Council of Ministers may accept, or adopt its own common position for further debate with Parliament. As yet, no common position has been adopted by the Council, as there are areas where further work is needed, including thresholds for compensation and compensation for missed connecting flights. More information is available on the dedicated Council website.

Information concerning the next stages of this procedure is available in the procedure file 2013/0072(COD) of the Legislative Observatory, the European Parliament’s database for monitoring the EU decision-making process.

Parliamentary questions

MEPs have put several parliamentary written questions [type ‘air passenger rights’ in the search field] to the European Commission on air passenger rights. In its answer of 30 June 2017, the Commission underlines that, in case of an unsatisfactory reply from an airline, passengers should contact the national enforcement bodies in the Member States directly.

Further information

More details are available in the EP fact sheet on passenger rights, on the dedicated website on air passenger rights (on Your Europe), and in the briefing ‘Strengthening air passenger rights in the EU‘, published by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) in May 2015. The Commission published interpretative guidelines on the two main regulations in June 2016.

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