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EU Examines Air Passenger Rights

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

13 September 2011

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) of the European Union has said more needs to be done at industry level to protect the rights of air travellers after identifying various deficiencies.

The lack of a consistent EU-wide policy for disabled travellers, zero ticketing transparency, poor information and insufficient awareness of passengers’ rights were pinpointed among the problems requiring solutions at a public hearing on passengers' rights held on September 8 by the Committee.

EESC vice-president Jacek Krawczyk called for more action at EU level to remedy these issues. "There needs to be more Europe in the sky", he said. The EESC's opinion on the revision of two existing passenger rights regulations is scheduled for adoption in October 2011 and will provide input for the work of the European Parliament and the European Commission in this area.

Krawczyk, himself a pilot and an active player in the aviation sector, kicked off the hearing by sharing a recent experience of his family being stranded at a European airport with no assistance offered by airport staff or airlines. His story was echoed by a number of participants, including Heike Thomsen from the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC), who had been fighting for more than a year to get compensation for a delay that had caused her to miss a connecting flight.

According to statistics presented by Nuria Rodríguez Murillo, a senior legal adviser with BEUC, the majority of passengers who suffer delays or flight cancellations say they have no access to the necessary information and are not offered food and accommodation despite the clear obligation to do so under European airline regulations. She argued for better enforcement of existing rules and their uniform application across all member states.

However, the compensation burden must not be placed solely on airlines, cautioned Athar Husain Khan from the Association of European Airlines. He reminded participants that in 2010 as few as 5% of cancellations were attributed to airlines. He was adamant that the obligation to provide unlimited compensation and assistance in events beyond the control of airlines was "unfair".

Gunta Anca, a Latvian Member of the EESC and a disability rights activist, highlighted the "unnecessary hardship" suffered by disabled travelers. She concluded from her personal experience of wheelchair use that disabled air passengers did not enjoy the same freedom as other citizens. Additional costs, no common security policy, insufficient staff training, a lack of appropriate information and other gaps in the application of the existing rules result in practical discrimination, she said.

Keith Taylor, MEP and rapporteur on air passenger rights, said the European Parliament would insist on easing the travel woes of the disabled and would advocate revised legal provisions that are clear, simple, transparent and fair.

Marjeta Jager, Director at the European Commission, stated that the Commission was preparing for the revision of the existing rules in order to tackle the areas identified. She said that the Commission would address any inconsistencies in the application of regulations across the EU (partly due to a lack of interpretative clarity) and strive towards more balanced burden-sharing between different players in the industry.

TAGS: aviation

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