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First anniversary of Air Passenger Rights

European Commission - IP/06/177   16/02/2006

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IP/06/177

Brussels, 16 February 2006

First anniversary of Air Passenger Rights

Tomorrow, on the first anniversary of the coming into force of the Regulation on air passenger rights, the European Commission will meet with the National Enforcement Bodies to discuss implementation of this legislation in the Member States. The Regulation offers better protection to air passengers in case of denied boarding, cancellations and long delays.

“The protection of air passenger rights is to go hand in hand with increased mobility in Europe”, said Vice-President Jacques Barrot in charge of transport. “The National Enforcement Bodies have an important role to play to make sure that citizens can fully enjoy these rights”

Tomorrow’s meeting, the second since the entry into force of the Regulation[1], will enable National Enforcement Bodies to share experiences and to enhance coordination in order to ensure that passenger protection rules are applied all over Europe in a co-ordinated way. It will allow the Commission to get a better overview of problems encountered, and to propose improvements where necessary.

National Enforcement Bodies in the Member States are the first port of call for passengers who feel that their rights have not been respected. The Commission has already called upon the Member States to make sure that their National Enforcement Bodies come to a full dispute settlement between passengers and airlines. Avoiding long and costly legal proceedings for passengers is a key goal of the new rules. This implies that Enforcement Bodies have to be independent and have sufficient resources at their disposal. The Commission will address these issues again at tomorrow’s meeting.

Another point on the agenda will be the notion of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which is often used by carriers when flights are disrupted. The existence of such circumstances can only be judged on a case by case basis by National Enforcement Bodies. While the right to a safe flight prevails in all circumstances, the notion of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ should not be used as a pretext for diminished consumer protection.

The Commission will this year prepare a full report for the European Parliament and the Council on the functioning of the Regulation, which could include proposals for complementary legislation if necessary. First indications have already shown that passengers have become more aware of this legislation and more assertive in claiming their rights, which is a positive effect of the new legislation.

Annex

One year of new Air Passenger Rights

Timeline:

21/12/2001 : The European Commission proposes the Regulation establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights (COM/2001/784). This Regulation repeals Regulation 295/91 establishing common rules for a denied-boarding compensation system in scheduled air transport.

18/12/2003: The European Parliament adopts with overwhelming majority (467 in favour, 4 against and 13 abstentions) the Commission’s proposal.

26/01/2004: The Council adopts the proposal (only UK and IRL vote against).

17/02/2004: Publication of the Regulation as Regulation [EC]261/2004.

24/09/2004: The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) and Hapag-Lloyd Express challenge the Regulation in the European Court of Justice.

16/12/2004: The Commission writes to all Member States requesting information on their progress in creating their National Enforcement Bodies and in incorporating sanction regimes in their national legislation. Both provisions need to be in place when the Regulation comes into force on 17/02/05.

26/01/2005: The Commission reminds Member States of its letter of 16/12/2004.

17/02/2005: Coming into force of the Regulation (IP/05/181).

09/03/2005 : The Commission writes to all Member States requesting the information notices for passengers of all air carriers under their licence (under the Regulation, airlines are obliged to inform their passengers of their rights).

19/05/2005: The Commission meets with the National Enforcement Bodies in Brussels as part of its monitoring activities to ensure proper implementation of the Regulation by the Member States.

06/07/2005: The Commission starts infringement procedures (letters of reasoned opinion) against Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta and Sweden for failure to incorporate sanction regimes in their national legislation. In the case of Luxemburg, also for failure to set up a National Enforcement Body (IP/05/858).

14/12/2005: The Commission refers Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden to the European Court of Justice and sends a letter of reasoned opinion to Slovakia for failure to incorporate sanction regimes in their national legislation (IP/05/1587).

10/01/2006: The European Court of Justice confirms validity of the Regulation in the case brought by IATA, ELFAA and Hapag-Lloyd Express (IP/06/12).

17/02/2006: First anniversary of the Regulation. The Commission invites the National Enforcement Bodies to Brussels for a second meeting on the implementation of the legislation.

Framework

1. Since 17 February 2005, Regulation [EC]261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights has been in force in the EU. The legislation applies to all airlines leaving from the EU and to all airlines licensed by an EU Member State flying from outside the EU to the EU. It covers scheduled and domestic flights as well as charters.

2. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) and Hapag-Lloyd Express challenged the Regulation before the European Court of Justice. On 10/01/2006 the Court confirmed the validity of the Regulation (IP/06/12).

3. Airlines are obliged to inform their passengers of their rights under this Regulation, which could include financial compensation, reimbursement or re-routing, meals and hotels as well as general assistance (see overview table attached to IP/05/181). Airlines are not obliged to pay compensation if they can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken (e.g. political instability, meteorological conditions, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, wild cat strikes) – safety remains the most important right of each passenger ! In these cases, the burden of proof lies with the airline, and passengers still have the right to information, assistance and re-routing.

4. National Enforcement Bodies in the Member States are the first port of call for passengers who feel that their rights have not been respected. Sanctions are to be imposed by Member States on airlines in breach of the Regulation. The Commission has no competence to intervene directly in disputes between citizens and private companies, but monitors airlines’ and Member States’ obligations towards passengers. The Commission will not refrain from using the legal instruments at its disposal to have them comply with the Regulation.

5. The Commission has called upon the Member States to make sure that their National Enforcement Bodies assume their role as described in article 16 of the Regulation and come to a full dispute settlement between passengers and airlines, since this can avoid long and costly legal proceedings. This implies that they have to be independent and have sufficient resources at their disposal. The Commission has already urged Member States to address these issues and this will be one of the points on the agenda of the second meeting with the National Enforcement Bodies which the Commission has called for 17/02/2006.

6. The Regulation was published one year before it came into force on 17/02/05) (so now two years ago) , which gave airlines and Member States the time to prepare and to put in place all necessary provisions. It is therefore unacceptable that some airlines and certain Member States fail to comply with these rules. The Commission will continue to remind Member States of their obligations under this Regulation and to make use of its legal instruments when necessary. This has already resulted in each Member State now having an Enforcement Body. Other procedures have been launched with regard to incorporation of sanctions into national legislation.

7. Although the National Enforcement Bodies are the first port of call for passengers who feel their rights have not been respected, the Commission receives every month about 500 direct complaints from passengers. These direct complaints show the following trends:

a) Passengers seem to be more aware of their rights:

In 2005, the Commission was contacted directly by passengers roughly 4 times more than in 2004. In addition, Europe Direct (the EU’s contact point for the public at large through email or a single free telephone number) received around 13.000 questions on these air passengers rights during 2005!

b) The legislation adopted in 1991 (Regulation 295/91), which covered denied boarding only, seems to have a dissuasive impact: In 2005, less than 10 % of passengers who contacted the Commission directly did so on denied boarding, against around 60% on cancellations and delays.

c) The remaining 30% concerns complaints about the National Enforcement Bodies, baggage handling, service by airlines and other issues.

8. The Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on the functioning of the Regulation by 1 January 2007 and will propose, if necessary, new legislative initiatives.
More information can be found at the following Website:
http://ec.europa.eu/transport/air/rights/info_en.htm


[1]EC]261/2004, IP/05/181


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