HolidayTravelWatch today gives a cautious welcome to the proposed new flight rules for delay, cancellation and denied boarding. The EU Commission has been considering the issues of amending EC Regulation 261/2004 following the Icelandic Volcano crisis in 2010. They have just published their 'proposals' and these will now be transposed into a new draft Regulation and placed before the EU Parliament and Member States for consideration; the EU plans to implement the new rules in 2014!
This Organisation broadly welcomes the proposals, in particular:
- Tarmac assistance and rejection of a flight after 5 hours;
- A clear statement on providing re-routing on comparable transport, including other airlines, after 12 hours;
- The right to care for all passengers, regardless of distance to be flown, after 2 hours, when a flight is delayed (this logically applies to passengers suffering flight cancellation and denied boarding?);
- Those suffering with misspelt names on flight tickets will be able to have them changed - without charge - up to 48 hours after purchase;
- Those who do not show for one portion of their flight are to be no longer penalised and will be able to take the next flight portion;
- Passengers with disability or vulnerable persons are to have 'uncapped' rights of care;
- Passengers with mobility equipment are to be allowed to declare the actual value of their equipment at check-in so as to ensure that they receive the full value should that equipment be damaged or lost;
- Small musical equipment will be allowed into an aircraft cabin so avoiding baggage charges (this was a point well advocated by musician interests);
- Information on the problems with flights to be given to Consumers within 30 minutes of the scheduled departure;
- Clearer systems and documentation to ensure the handling of baggage claims at airports;
- Where baggage claims arise, there has to be greater transparency and the National Enforcement Bodies (in the UK's case this is the CAA) will have a duty to enforce the Regulations;
- Complaints made to airlines must be acknowledged in 1 week and a substantive response given within 2 months - the Consumer must make the complaint within 3 months of the flight in question;
- Where moments of crisis arise, airports must co-ordinate with airlines and create a contingency plan to aide Consumers;
- Consumers and by inference airlines, to be allowed to move toward out of court settlement procedures such as mediation/arbitration;
- There are no changes to the levels of compensation criteria (some would criticise that point, but in these hard pressed times is that a reasonable position to take - is it equally reasonable to say they should reduced when expenses are on the rise? I dare say that sometime in the future these levels will be reviewed again).
HolidayTravelWatch does have important concerns however on the failure to adequately deal with:
- What constitutes an 'extraordinary circumstance' - this being the defence used by airlines to limit or avoid paying out compensation under the Regulations;
- The limitation to care provided where an 'extraordinary circumstance' arises; creating an additional test for Consumers to satisfy in order to receive care or recompense;
- The lack of clarity on the enhanced role of the National Enforcement Bodies, and
- The failure to require a 'key facts' document to be given to every passenger, summarising their contract and their rights.
The Organisation has written an article to explain its full position on these matters.
HolidayTravelWatch is concerned that areas in the 'proposals' requiring attention will provide a greater detriment to Consumers if a greater clarity is not provided in the new Regulation.
Frank Brehany, the Consumer Director for HolidayTravelWatch states:
"I broadly welcome the proposals but have real concerns on 3 key areas; 'extraordinary circumstances', National Enforcement Bodies and 'Key Facts' documents. If the draft Regulation fails to offer progress or clarity on these issues, then I predict that Consumers will suffer continued detriment and greater costs to prove their case; this I am sure will be an unintended consequence arising from these 'proposals'. I call upon the EU Commission to think again on these key areas when they come to draft the Regulation and ensure that Consumers are indeed on a level playing field!"