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Brussels, 4 May 2010

European Consumer Centres act together to help volcanic ash crisis passengers claim their rights

The network of European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net), supported by the European Commission and operating in all Member States (plus Iceland and Norway), has come out today with a practical complaint package, which is designed to help consumers affected by recent flight disruptions to exercise their consumer rights guaranteed under EU laws. The package includes a standard complaint letter, contact details of all airlines and other practical advice. ECC-Net handles about 60,000 cases annually for consumers who turn to them for advice or for help with problems they experienced while shopping or travelling across borders within the EU. In 2009, more than one in five (22.5%) complaints tackled by ECCs concerned air transport. During the first week of the volcanic ash crisis, the number of cases handled by the network has risen 7 times. From the start, the ECC-Net has been put on full alert, working closely together to ensure co-ordinated assistance to EU consumers.

EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said: "EU consumer rights apply even in extraordinary circumstances. In fact, talks on aiding the companies which suffered as a result of the ash crisis must be linked to their respect for passenger rights". He added: "Today thousands of consumers affected by flight disruptions are still rightly clamouring for their rights to be respected in practice. My message to them is: do not hesitate to claim what is yours. If an airline or a tour operator continues to ignore your rights, a European Consumer Centre near you can be your next port of call".

European Consumer Centres: direct help for ash crisis victims

The network of European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net)has been working since the start of the volcanic ash crisis to offer practical help to passengers who got stranded as a result of flight disruptions and are experiencing difficulties having their consumer rights respected. The number of consumers who have contacted ECC-Net for help or advice on air passenger rights has risen seven times during the first week of the crisis compared with the previous week.

Today, the European Commission and the ECC-Net have made available – in all languages of the EU - a practical complaint package which will help consumers effectively claim their rights. The package includes, for example:

  • A standard complaint letter, available in national languages;

  • A list of addresses where complaint letters can be sent;

  • Advice on the use of out-of-court dispute resolution with the company, and the use of the EU small claims procedure, e.g. to claim the refunds due

  • Answers to frequently asked questions.

What EU rights for the consumers affected by the crisis ?

The Commission has recently published a comprehensive Q&A sheet on the volcanic ash crisis including a summary of the air passenger rights which apply, also including the special case of package travel (see MEMO/10/143).

What complaints related to the crisis has the network handled?

Some examples of the thousands of cases handled by national ECCs include:

  • ECC Belgium: a traveller on a package holiday was stranded with three children due to a cancelled flight. The tour operator failed to reroute him and refused to cover extra nights in the hotel. As a result, he was rapidly running out of funds, and the hotel threatened to evict him or confiscate his passport.

  • ECC Ireland: an Irish traveller with a serious medical condition was stranded in Romania. His medication was running out and was unavailable locally, which his doctor confirmed could have serious health consequences. The airline refused to offer him priority on the next available flight, citing overbooking.

What is the daily business of the ECC-Net?

The European Consumer Centres specialise in helping EU consumers who have had problems shopping for goods or services in another EU country. The network handled over 60,000 cases in 2009. The main services offered by ECCs include:

  • advice on EU-wide and national consumer rights and obligations;

  • assistance in reaching an amicable solution with the trader;

  • directing consumers to out-of-court settlement schemes or advice on the use the EU small claims procedure, e.g. to claim a refund.

Consumer complaints in the air transport sector:

In 2009, one in three complaints handled by ECCs concerned transport (33%). Among those, more than 75% concerned air transport. Within the latter group of complaints, almost eight out of ten (79.2%) concerned air passenger rights, while luggage-related complaints (loss of theft) accounted for over 20%.

In the summer of 2010, ECC-Net will finalise a joint project reviewing complaints related to the air transport handled by the network in 2008.

More details:

ECC-Net central site including links to national sites and the complaints package:

Case studies: examples of complaints resolved by the ECC-Net:

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