The Rise of Travel Consumer Power where Air, Rail & Maritime Travel Problems Arise!

I was struck by the article from Travel Weekly (8/7/2010), in which concern was expressed that agents would be in line to receive more complaints from Travel Consumers, as a result of an EU Commission led campaign, to highlight their rights where they suffer with flight or rail delays, denied boarding or cancellations!  Indeed, ABTA described the information campaign as 'unhelpful' and that they were concerned that the views of the travel industry had not been accounted for before the campaign was launched!  This was followed by an apparent comment from the Association's spokesperson, who is reported to have stated, "The posters do not reflect our interpretation of the regulations and we don't want confusion. We are asking the EC to review the campaign" - further comment was made that the regulations were drafted for a purpose and not drafted to deal with issues such as the recent Volcano Travel Crisis!

So why all this froth?  Well, it appears that the new EU Transport Commissioner, Simm Kallas, has decided that it is time that EU Travel Consumers should be made fully aware of their rights (a point we have consistently made on EC Regulation 261/2004 & The Package Travel Directive/Regulations), and he has launched a comprehensive EU Campaign on:

  1. Air passenger rights,
  2. The rights of those with reduced mobility travelling by air,
  3. Airline luggage rights,
  4. Rail passenger rights (which includes the rights of those travelling by rail with Reduced Mobility & International & Domestic Rail Standards & Obligations),
  5. Maritime Rights (these have just been approved by the EU Parliament and it is expected that they will be introduced in the next two years),
  6. Coach Transport Rights (it is expected that these will be introduced within the next few years).

This is clearly a milestone in the development of Travel Consumer Rights and demonstrates that perhaps the Lisbon Treaty (Articles 2 & 6) and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights (Article 38) are now being considered and acted upon on Consumer issues!  If that is the case then I say bravo to the Commission and Parliament for placing the Consumer at the centre of the laws that are created!  I thought that it was interesting to read of the potential rise of EU Institutional Power through this BBC commentary an encouraging sign of our times?

So having read and reviewed this campaign, I can see why perhaps it would be 'unhelpful' to an Industry.  For the first time that I can recall, there is an EU-wide campaign to inform its Citizens of the rights accorded to them by law!  To suggest that the laws created do not subscribe to an Industry 'interpretation' is strange to say the least, surely the law is the law, or is it?  You may recall an earlier article I wrote about an air passenger I was waiting for, trapped by a long and unaided delay at their departure airport.  In that instance, the airline representative told me that EU Directive 261/2004 was in fact a set of 'guidelines' issued to the airlines and not in fact a law!  Needless to say, that airline representative received a brief analysis on rights to be provided, which I am happy to say were given within 15 minutes of our discussion!  But here lies the problem, if laws are made, does an Industry (it doesn't have to be the Travel Industry) feel it is their duty to 'reinterpret' that law?  Surely the purpose of the law is to create fairness and in the case of the EU, a single market that is fair to all?

In the Travel Weekly article I have referred to, comment was made on the Ash Cloud Crisis and how EU Directive 261/2004 was not supposed to cover such situations.  This issue has been subject to, and continues to form much of the comment around the debate on the future of EU Directive 261/2004.  On 28 June 2010, a meeting was held in Brussels to discuss Air Passenger Rights; we provided a report to the Commission setting out our views on the Directive's future.  In that report we stated that the fundamental issues created by the Regulation should be protected, however, we took the view that a more robust enforcement process should be introduced to actively protect Consumer Rights!

On the issue of Volcano Travel Rights, we called for a 'Crisis Clause' to be introduced into EC Regulation 261/2004.  We say in the event of a natural or man-made crisis, a declaration should be made by the Commission to that effect and that a tariff, agreed between the Commission, Consumers and Airlines should apply which would seek to sensibly limit any obligations imposed by the Regulation!

The issues created by the Volcano Travel Crisis are nothing to do with the principal structure of these Regulations and are not related to a long overdue Campaign to inform Travel Consumers of their rights!  The only confusion that exists is amongst Consumers in that they are often not provided with assistance, as required by law, what is wrong with informing them of their rights?  There is also nothing objectionable about the posters and videos created by the EU Commission, leaving the Volcano Travel Crisis to one side, surely this is about ensuring that a quality travel product is provided; one that does not attract holiday or travel complaints and the solutions offered by Regulations?

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