Strengthening passenger rights within the European Union
Over the last 30 years there has been a mobility boom in Europe. Passenger travel has more than doubled since 1970 (from 2 118 billion passenger kilometres in 1970 to 4 993 billion in 2002). At the same time, the air transport sector has seen a number of changes: the emergence of low cost airlines, the restructuring of other airlines, the opening up of new routes, and the availability of information or tickets on the internet with a general reduction in fares. However, the quality of the services on offer and the protection of passengers' rights remain inadequate, particularly on international routes. In the light of this, the Commission published a White Paper on European transport policy in which it committed itself to placing users at the heart of transport policy.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council "Strengthening passenger rights within the European Union" [COM(2005) 46 final - not published in the Official Journal].
The single market has generated a sizeable growth in demand for both passenger and goods transport. However, passengers have been faced with difficult situations which, rather than being the exception, have unfortunately become the norm, such as cancellations, overbooking, loss of luggage, delays, etc.
Passenger rights should be protected in the following ways:
- specific measures in favour of persons with reduced mobility;
- compensation and assistance in the event of a delay, cancellation or denied boarding;
- liability in the event of death or injury;
- treatment of complaints and means of redress;
- passenger information.
Specific measures in favour of persons with reduced mobility
A passenger protection policy must include specific measures to protect persons with reduced mobility. There are some 45 million citizens with reduced mobility, or around 10 % of the European population. This figure includes not only disabled persons but also those who would be incapable of travelling without assistance because of their age, reduced mental capacity or illness.
These people should be guaranteed appropriate assistance, wherever they go and whatever the form of transport used, so that they can travel with confidence throughout the EU. They should never be refused travel or a reservation because of their reduced mobility. Moreover, they should receive the assistance that they need free of charge, both in airports, stations and ports and on board the means of transport itself.
Automatic and immediate solutions where travel is interrupted
Where a service is interrupted because of delay, cancellation or denied boarding, the passengers should be entitled to automatic solutions to overcome the difficulties they encounter whatever the method of transport. They can always bring judicial proceedings against carriers.
Liability in the event of death or injury of passengers
As a general rule, carriers are insured against the risk of physical damage to passengers; however, the requirements vary considerably at national level.
With the exception of the aviation sector, there is no guarantee of a sufficient and uniform level of insurance in all circumstances. As regards maritime transport, the Commission has already proposed that the Community and the Member States become contracting parties to the Athens Protocol relating to the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea.
In the same way, coach travellers are faced with different national rules and do not know before which court they should bring their action. In view of this, the Commission will examine how to guarantee an adequate level of cover and a uniform approach to liability in international coach transport.
Treatment of complaints and means of redress
Once passengers have been made aware of their rights, the exercise of such rights should be made as simple as possible. Most of the time the judicial proceedings are complex or very lengthy. Hence the usefulness of extra-judicial mechanisms for solving disputes which offer significant advantages: speed, transparency, reasonable cost and flexibility. In the light of this, the Commission has established a European network of national bodies aimed at facilitating access to non-judicial procedures for the resolution of cross-border disputes.
Passengers should not only know the identity of the carrier who will operate the flight but also be certain that information which could affect the safety of the carrier and which could therefore concern them is indeed communicated rapidly and effectively between States.
The Commission has initiated a number of measures concerning passenger information, namely:
- developing a system of indicators which will give air passengers access to key information on the quality of service so that they can easily and immediately compare the performance of carriers. The proposed indicators cover delays, denied boarding, cancellations and poor baggage handling;
- pursuing its information campaign to publicise the rights created by Community legislation. The Commission will update the charter of air passengers' rights to include the new Community legislation on denied boarding, cancellation and long delays of flights and on the liability of air carriers;
- obtaining a voluntary undertaking from air carriers and railway companies to set up an integrated ticketing system to enable passengers to combine several modes of transport in one journey through integrated ticketing;
- studying, with the industry, the options for strengthening passengers' rights in the event of airlines going bankrupt.