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IP/00/656

Brussels, 23 June 2000

Telling air passengers their rights

Passengers already enjoy important rights under Community law, although they often do not know them and so do not insist on their being respected. For that reason, the Commission decided to launch a campaign to make passengers aware of the rights that the European Community has created for them, beginning with the display of a charter in airports throughout the Community. This campaign will be launched at officially on 23rd June in Rome, after the annual conference of Airports Council International (A.C.I. - Europe). "It is one thing to create these rights, another to make people really aware of them" said Loyola de Palacio. "That is why the Commission is publishing a Charter on passenger rights for display in EU airports and later, I hope, in the offices of airlines and travel agents. This charter will allow passengers to better understand their rights and to exercise them more effectively."

Even with increasing levels of competition in the air transport market, the quality of service is lower than many people believe it should be. Although prices have become more attractive, passengers' dissatisfaction with the level of service is growing.

This is despite the body of legislation that the European Union has adopted to protect the interests of air passengers. Part of the problem is that passengers do not know their rights and so cannot insist that airlines respect them. A poster publicity campaign will enable passengers to have a much better understanding of their rights; under what conditions they can complain; who they can complain to, and whether there is a good chance of obtaining reasonable compensation for inconvenience or for time, money or possessions lost. The Charter (see attached), on which the poster is based, sets out passengers' rights in four main areas:

    i) information about flights and reservations : a passenger is entitled to neutral and precise information on the different flights available when making enquiries or booking through a travel agent in the European Union, and whether the ticket is booked by means of a travel agent or directly through an airline he or she must receive full information about the service.

    ii) overbooking : if, at an EU airport, an airline prevents a passenger from boarding because it has overbooked the flight, it must offer the following :

    • a choice between reimbursement of the relevant part of the ticket or an alternative flight (re-routing),

    • compensation in cash,

    • care during the delay (meals, refreshments, hotel, telephone calls or faxes).

    iii) compensation in case of an accident : passengers travelling with an EU airline, or their relatives, have the right to full compensation for death or injury (there is no upper limit to the airline's liability). They also have the right to up-front payments if needed to help with immediate economic hardship.

    iv) air travel as part of a package holiday : air passengers travelling as part of a package holiday or tour must receive precise information from the organisers about their trip. The consumer has the right to transfer his or her booking to another person. The organiser is responsible for any failure to meet the terms of the contract, so problems with the flight element of a tour or holiday should generally be taken up directly with the organiser. He will act on the passenger's behalf in dealings with the airline.

As for enforcement, these rights are laid down by law, so that airlines, travel agents and tour operators must observe them :

  • when a passenger believes that his or her rights have not been respected, the first step is to complain to the airline or the organiser of the package holiday,

  • if not satisfied, the next stage is to contact the relevant national body responsible for air transport or consumer protection,

  • when a passenger has incurred damages because Community law has not been respected, there may be grounds for private legal action in national courts,

  • a passenger can also inform the Directorate General for Energy and Transport of the European Commission of the follow-up given to his/her complaint (rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 200, 1049 Brussels, fax: +.32.(0)2.299.10.15, e-mail: trenaprights@ec.europa.eu).

While the purpose of this campaign is to make passengers aware of their existing rights, the Commission is convinced that it is necessary to go further in protecting passengers' interests. It therefore presented on June 21st a proposal to complete these existing rights with new legal and voluntary commitments by airlines and airports to improving service quality, better treatment of delayed passengers, mechanisms for handling and settling complaints and also consumer reports comparing the performance of different airlines. This will form the basis of an overall European policy to protect passengers' interests in all key areas.

    Information to all TVs: The European Commission produced a video on the Charter of Air Passengers right which is available by calling the European Commission Audiovisual Service Planning 2952123.

Passenger Rights

The European Union has created rights for air passengers and is working to reinforce them.

Here are the main rights that you now enjoy.

I. Information about flights and reservation

When making enquiries about or booking a flight through a travel agent in the European Union, each passenger has the right to neutral and accurate information:

  • Unless a passenger requires something different, a travel agent must supply him or her neutral information from the computerised reservation system in particular, on:

    • the different options available for a journey ranked in the following order:

      • non-stop flights,

      • flights with intermediate stops, but without change of aircraft,

      • connecting flights.

    • all the fares available from different airlines, as displayed.

  • A travel agent must give passengers direct access to the information shown by the computer system if they request it, either by allowing them to see the screen or by printing it out.

  • If the ticket is booked through a travel agent or directly by an airline, they must pass on to the passenger all information available in the computer system about:

    • the identity of the air carrier which will actually provide the service, as opposed to the carrier mentioned on the ticket;

      • changes of aircraft during the journey;

      • stops en route during the journey;

      • transfers between airports during the journey.

II. Overbooking

European Union rules require that passengers must receive fair treatment and proper compensation when they are denied boarding at a European Union airport:

A passenger has a valid ticket indicating a confirmed reservation and arrives within the time limit for check-in at an airport in the European Union. If the airline then prevents the passenger from boarding because it has overbooked the flight, the following rules apply.

  • The airline must offer that passenger a choice between :

    • reimbursement without penalty of the cost of the ticket for the part of the journey not made or;

      • re-routing to the passenger's final destination at the earliest opportunity or;

        • re-routing at a later date at the passenger's convenience.

      • In addition, the airline must pay minimum compensation in cash as follows:

    • €150 for flights up to 3 500 km (€75 if the delay to the passenger is less than two hours)

    • €300 for flights over 3 500 km (€150 if the delay to the passenger is less than four hours)

    The compensation need not exceed the price of the ticket. Only if the passenger agrees can it be paid in vouchers or other services rather than cash.

  • In addition the airline shall offer the following assistance, free of charge:

    • a telephone call and/or telex or fax to their destination;

    • meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time;

    • accommodation in cases where an additional stay of one or more nights is necessary.

  • onward transport to their original destination if the passenger accepts a replacement flight to an alternative airport.

  • Where a passenger is placed in a lower class than that for which the ticket was purchased, he or she shall be entitled to a reimbursement of the difference.

  • Where a passenger is travelling with a package tour, the airline must compensate the tour operator who must then pass the sums collected on to the passenger.

A passenger should not have to apply to the airline for the compensation and assistance mentioned above the airline should offer them as a matter of course.

III. Compensation in case of an accident

Passengers travelling with an European Union airline will receive full compensation in the case of an accident regardless of where it happens, and also up-front payments if needed to help with immediate economic hardship.

  • There is no limit on the financial liability of a European Union airline to compensate for the death, wounding or any other bodily injury to a passenger. In other words, there is no upper limit on the claim that can be made.

  • The airline shall make an advance payment to help with immediate economic hardship, not later than fifteen days after the person entitled to compensation has been identified, This advance payment shall not be less than 15.000 Special Drawing Rights (around € 20.000) per passenger in the event of death.

  • To encourage the rapid resolution of smaller claims up to 100.000 Special Drawing Rights (around € 130.000), European Union airlines may only limit or exclude their liability if the damage was caused (in whole or in part) by the negligence of the injured or deceased passenger.

IV. Air travel as part of a package holiday

Air passengers travelling as part of a package tour or holiday bought in the European Union must receive precise information from the organiser about their trip. They also enjoy clear rights concerning the performance of the contract.

  • The brochure must, amongst other things, set out clearly and accurately the destination, the itinerary and the means of transport to be used for the holiday. The information in the brochure is binding on the organiser.

  • Before departure, the organiser must supply in writing the times and places of intermediate stops and transport connections.

  • The consumer has the right to transfer his or her booking to another person.

  • The price stipulated in the contract cannot be changed unless the conditions expressly provide for that possibility.

  • The organiser is responsible for any failure to meet the terms of the contract, so problems with the flight element of a tour or holiday should generally be taken up directly with the organiser. He will act on the passenger's behalf in dealings with the airline.

V. Other rights

Air transport is subject to a contract that creates certain rights for passengers. Ask the airline or your travel agency for a copy.

Under international agreements an airline is liable for damage caused by delay, except if it proves that it did all it reasonably could to avoid the damage or that is was impossible to do so. It is also liable for loss or damage to baggage. Ask for information from your airline or travel agency.

Enforcing passenger rights

The passenger rights above are laid down either directly by EU law or by national laws that implement EU Directives. So, airlines, travel agents, tour operators and all other businesses involved in the provision of air transport must observe them.

  • The first thing a passenger should do is to contact the airline or the organiser of the package holiday.

  • If a passenger feels that the law has not been respected, he or she could contact the relevant national body responsible for air transport or consumer protection (when available details are indicated below).

    • When a passenger has incurred damages because Community law has not been respected, there may be grounds for private legal action in national courts.

    • Consumer and passenger organisations can also offer advice or assistance.

  • A passenger can also inform the Directorate General for Energy and Transport of the European Commission of the follow-up given to his/her complaint (Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 200, 1049 Brussels, fax: +.32.(0)2.299.10.15, e-mail: tren-aprights@ec.europa.eu).

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