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Will air passenger rights change soon?

An old legislative proposal on air passenger rights is once again being discussed in the EU. The currently valid regulation on air passenger rights (Regulation 261) dates back to 2004. An amendment was discussed almost 10 years ago, when the EU Commission suggested extending the rights of passengers. In the case of delays and flight cancellations, the intention was to tighten up and the proposals were discussed in the EU Parliament. However, due to the disagreement of the member states on these points, the initiative faded away. Now there is a new attempt with new ideas from the Commission. Air travellers in the EU could get more rights in the future - but in certain cases also less.



EU Presidency considers new attempt for revised passenger rights

The old but still valid EU Regulation 261/2004 regulates what assistance and compensation airlines have to provide to their passengers when it comes to delays or cancellations. Now negotiations are underway again. The EU Commission has updated the proposals, the Czech Council Presidency is showing initiative to get the deadlocked positions moving again, according to an article in the magazine "Politico". In addition, airlines are currently lobbying particularly hard for a reduction in compensation payments. The airlines argue that it is unfair to have to pay compensation that is often much higher than the ticket price. The opposing position comes from representatives of BEUC (the umbrella organisation of European consumer protection bodies), who do not want to see the regulation watered down, but instead would like to see extended protective rights. For example, that compensation be paid automatically and not only by the injured party having to actively demand it, as has been the case up to now.

Chances for change now higher

Because the EU states could not agree on a position, the negotiations were suspended years ago. One point of contention, for example, was between Spain and the UK over the role of the airport in Gibraltar. Although the UK has not been involved in negotiations since Brexit, there has been no significant progress since then. Now it seems that many countries are ready to work on the proposal again. However, the negotiations could only be resumed if there was enough time in the second half of the presidency - i.e. from October to December. Should the EU states reach an agreement, they would still have to negotiate with the European Parliament. The European Parliament already defined its position in 2014, so the proposal, which was suspended in 2013, is back on the table. The UK is also in the process of renewing its air passenger rights and is expected to make compensation levels dependent on the price of airline tickets. This puts some pressure on the continental Europeans to innovate as well and quickly. If the reform does not materialise during the Czech presidency, there is a good chance that it will take place during the following Swedish presidency. Consumer protection is traditionally strong in Nordic countries.

What might change

At that time, the EU Commission had proposed to extend the right of passengers to information, meals and compensation by the airlines. At the same time, however, it was also planned to restrict the right to compensation for flights within the EU and short international flights of less than 3,500 kilometres. According to the proposal, such compensation would only be possible from five hours of delay - not from three hours as at present. The Commission argued that a three-hour period is often too short for airlines to fly in spare parts or aircraft. The current regulation therefore encourages airlines to cancel flights completely - which is not in the interest of passengers. It was clearly seen in the chaos of thousands of cancelled flights this summer. The other part of the proposal was that airlines would have to inform passengers in detail about the reasons for a delay no later than half an hour after the scheduled departure time. In addition, drinks and snacks would have to be offered already after a delay of two hours - and no longer depending on the flight distance and the delay suffered. In addition, the EU Commission defines the term "extraordinary circumstances" precisely for the first time. Airlines often invoke these to avoid compensation payments in the event of longer delays. Another new aspect is that passengers should also be entitled to their return flight, regardless of whether they took the outward flight or not.

(Sources: DPA  / Politico)

Summary of the sticking points in the negotiations:

  • Exceptional circumstances are defined precisely, but how?
  • Compensation only for internal EU flights or a maximum of 3500 kilometres?
  • Extended information obligations already after 30 minutes delay?
  • Snacks and drinks after a 2-hour delay?
  • Compensation only after 5 hours?
  • Possibly lower compensation amounts?
  • Entitlement to return flight although outward flight not used?
Pictogram about "bilateral negotations"

Bilateral negotiations


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