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Air passengers rights: Commission proposes to reinforce protection against denied boarding, cancellation and long delays

European Commission - IP/02/17   07/01/2002

Other available languages: FR DE

IP/02/17

Brussels, 7 January 2002

Air passengers rights: Commission proposes to reinforce protection against denied boarding, cancellation and long delays

The Commission has adopted a proposal of regulation to protect the rights of air passengers when facing denied boarding, cancellation of their flight or a long delay. " Too many Europeans have a bad surprise when checking-in for their flight. We want to cut the number of passengers who suffer from denied boarding; our proposals will make this practice much less common. We want to protect passengers against cancellations of flights for which operators are responsible, particularly when unexpected and made at a late stage." said Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President of the Commission in charge of Energy and Transport. "Strengthening the rights of passengers will help restore their confidence in air travel" she underlined.

Roughly one quarter of a million air passengers each year get a bad surprise at EU airports when checking-in for their flight. They have bought a ticket and reserved a place. They are then told by the operator that their flight has been overbooked and they have to take a later one. Denied boarding causes passengers great inconvenience and loss of time. Equally bad surprises are cancellations without warning and delays that leave passengers stranded for hours at an airport.

The Community already has a regulation on denied boarding dating from 1991 but, although it was an important step forward in the protection of passengers, it has proved too weak and limited. It does not effectively deter airlines from denying boarding. It does not cover cancellations for commercial reasons or long delays. It does not apply to non-scheduled flights, chartered by tour operators. The Commission proposes today to give passengers effective protection all-round by taking 4 main measures:

Extend air passenger rights to passengers of all kinds of flights.

The present regulation is limited to scheduled flights, about half the market. The new one would cover it all, that is both scheduled and non-scheduled flights (including air transport sold as part of a package holiday).

Cut denied boarding.

The new regulation would dramatically reduce the frequency of denying boarding against a passenger's will. It would do so through a combination of two measures:

  • First, when expecting to turn passengers away, and before doing anything else, airlines and tour operators would be obliged to call for volunteers to surrender their seats in exchange for advantages; they would then agree the conditions of the exchange with them. Only if insufficient volunteers came forward, would they be allowed to deny passengers boarding against their will.

  • Second, if after all airlines or tour operators do deny passengers boarding, they would have to pay compensation at a dissuasive level. The new regulation would set a standard rate, about four times the level set in 1991 after allowing for inflation. This would create a strong incentive to make volunteering attractive and a powerful deterrent to deny boarding. Thanks to a volunteer system, in the United States most overbooked passengers give up their seats voluntarily and few are bumped off flights.

In addition to financial compensation, passengers denied boarding would continue to enjoy both these rights:

  • the choice between an alternative flight as soon as possible and reimbursement of their ticket in case the delay has made their journey pointless; and

  • care while awaiting a later flight (refreshments, meals, accommodation).

Volunteers would also be able to choose between an alternative flight and reimbursement of their ticket.

Minimise the inconvenience of cancellations.

When airlines or tour operators cancel flights and are responsible for doing so, the new regulation would require them to contact passengers before departure time and negotiate with them the conditions for surrendering their reservations. Passengers who cannot be contacted or do not volunteer would have the right to compensation at the at the rate fixed for denied boarding (cancellation is denied boarding in an extreme form).

In addition to the financial compensation, these passengers would receive two other rights:

  • a choice between an alternative flight at the earliest opportunity and reimbursement of their ticket;

  • care while awaiting a later flight.

Assist passengers facing long delays.

Delays at EU airports are worsening and it is unacceptable to leave passengers stranded for hours. The new regulation would give those affected by long delays the choice between an alternative flight as soon as possible and reimbursement of their ticket. In addition, airlines would be obliged to care for passengers with special needs, such as those with reduced mobility or unaccompanied children (refreshments, meals, hotels). However, no compensation is foreseen for the normal delays : the Commission considers it would be unfair to oblige airlines to care for all delayed passengers, though many choose to do so, as delays are not always their fault.

The Commission's proposal would replace the existing regulation on denied boarding and its 1998 proposal to amend that regulation. It is withdrawing the latter, as announced in its communication on the protection of air passengers.

SUMMARY OF PROPOSALS

SCHEDULED FLIGHTS

Existing rightsProposed new rights
Denied boarding

A passenger has these 3 rights:

  • Financial compensation :

      - 150 for flights of less than 3,500 km;

      - 300 for flights of 3,500 km or more.

      Amounts may be halved if delay less than 2 hours in first case or less than 4 hours in second.

  • Choice between alternative flight and reimbursement of ticket

  • Care while waiting: refreshments, meals, hotels.
1) Obligation on operators to call for volunteers to surrender reservations in exchange for agreed benefits (and also to give volunteers choice between alternative flight and reimbursement of ticket).

2) If nevertheless denied boarding, a passenger has these 3 rights:

  • Financial compensation:

- 750 for flights of less than 3,500 km

- 1,500 for flights of 3,500 km or more.

Amounts may be halved as under existing regulation

  • Choice between alternative flight and reimbursement of ticket

  • Care while waiting: refreshments, meals, hotels.

An operator cannot deny boarding to a disabled passenger or to others with special needs.

    Cancellation(1)

Not covered1) Obligation on operators to contact passengers and seek volunteers to surrender reservations;

2) A passenger that does not volunteer has these 3 rights:

  • Financial compensation as denied boarding;

  • Choice between alternative flight and reimbursement of ticket; and

  • Care while waiting : refreshments, meals, hotels
Long delayNot covered1) A passenger has the right to choose between alternative flight and reimbursement of ticket.
2) Disabled passengers and others with special needs are entitled to care while waiting : refreshments, meals, hotels.
NON-SCHEDULED FLIGHTS
Existing rightsProposed new rights
Denied

boarding

Not coveredAs above
CancellationNot coveredAs above
Long delayNot coveredAs above

(1)if responsibility of the operator


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