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The European Commission by year-end is expected to issue a report
on proposed revisions to air passenger rights legislation adopted in 2004,
cabinet member Veronica Manfredi told the Association of Corporate Travel
Executives in Berlin last month. Proportionality of compensation for delays to
the ticket price paid by the traveler and cross-border infringements of the
directive are among the issues under review. The goal is to have a revised law
in place within a year and a half, said Manfredi, a member of the cabinet of
Siim Kallas, E.C. vice president responsible for transport.
The transport office began a formal review of five pieces of
passenger rights legislation last December and by March garnered more than 370
comments from consumer groups, airlines, airports, air organizations and
others. The review included the European Union's five-year-old Air Passenger
Rights law, known as EC 261, which established rules for compensation and
assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation and long
delays. Consumer groups have complained that travelers don't know about the
provisions or deadlines of the directive and that carriers too often deny claims.
The transport office in June held a hearing on the topic and
the cabinet has continued to meet with various stakeholders, Manfredi said. The
review was initiated, she said, as the laws took effect five years ago and it
was time to consider necessary updates. A review also was necessary, according
to Kallas, given that the commission "intends to adopt a new horizontal
communication on passenger rights covering all modes of transportation."
EC 261 has come under attack since the volcanic ash cloud
crisis, during which the EU reminded carriers that the law required them to
provide assistance—including meals and accommodations—even in "extraordinary
circumstances." Responding via videoconference during the ACTE meeting to
a questioner who noted an EasyJet executive's prior comments that travelers "pay
us €35 for a ticket and we pay them €1,000 to stay in a hotel" and asked
about the fairness of requiring carriers to pay millions of euros for a
disaster obviously not of their making, Manfredi called the ash crisis "a
particularly extraordinary circumstance" that "the regulation was not
conceived to address.
"Nonetheless, it has proven to be a very effective
tool," Manfredi continued. "All in all, the regulation has matured to
ensure that real assistance has been provided to many passengers in Europe and
beyond. There must be some assumption of responsibility in extreme
circumstances. This said, we are listening very carefully to what a number of
air companies are telling us. Actually, we've invited them several times to
provide us with data—figures—about the amount of financial damages they've paid
to passengers. I'm sad to report that none of the companies have provided us
with any figures. We hope that at some point we will get information on the
In August, the United Kingdom High Court asked the European Court of Justice to review a contentious November 2009 ruling on the passenger
rights legislation and suspended U.K. courts from considering other such cases
until the issue of compensation was clarified.
"The issue of proportionality has certainly been taken
into account," Manfredi said. "But what would help us at this stage
is if the airlines would provide us with figures to understand the damages. We
would be in a good position to assess the extent of the damages" paid by
E.C. also is reviewing the issue of "cross-border
enforcement," Manfredi said, as well as "another complaint we hear
from air carriers from time to time: that they are treated better in certain
member states" than others.
The legislation directs passengers to file claims first with
carriers and then with one of 27 national enforcement bodies responsible for
the directive. Addressing concerns of some travel buyers who question whether
the national enforcement bodies have the necessary expertise and data to
determine whether a delay was caused by an airline or another reason, Manfredi
said "such examples should be proven on the basis of data. All in all, we
believe the national enforcement bureaus in 27 member states are doing a good
job. We organized a number of extraordinary meetings after the ash cloud to
ensure that this was the best way to organize.
"All these legal regulations and legal thinking are in
place for one main goal: quality of service," Manfredi added. "The
commission is extremely open to dialogue. We have to strike the right balance
between users and carriers." Passengers or travel buyers interested in
commenting on the topic should contact the E.C. transport office, she added.
This report appears in
the Nov. 8 issue of Business Travel News.