EU Grants More Legal Rights to Airline Passengers While Protecting Airline Industry Interests

European SQ Law Group Outlines Key Changes Due in 2015

ROME, March 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- SQ Law, a full service European legal group with expertise in aviation law, outlines the key aspects of the recent EU legislation proposed to boost airline passenger rights while addressing the interests and concerns of the airline industry. 

Gianluca Meranda, partner at SQ Law and an expert in aviation law, confirms the importance of this law to balance the concerns of both sides of the debate; "The lack of clarity in the current law has caused unnecessary challenges for passengers and the aviation industry alike. We have represented both over the years and welcome this increased transparency." Meranda continues "Enforcement of the law has been a thorny issue, and these new rules should provide greater protection for consumers, greater powers to authorities in applying the law, and increased operational efficiencies for airlines."

Consumer Protections

The new measures aim to address the most common airline practices that remain a regular source of frustration to travellers.

They would compel airlines to provide information and benefits when flights are delayed.

Passengers, for example, would be entitled to know what is happening after a 30-minute flight delay. They would also have a right to food and water after two hours of waiting, even if already on board the plane.

Airlines would have to provide alternative travel routes within 12 hours, even if it means travel with another airline. Currently, airlines make it a priority to reroute on one of their own flights, or that of their partners, to keep costs down, even if that results in days of delay.

The rules will also clarify what are known as "extraordinary circumstances" for compensation. At present, airlines often argue mechanical faults are extraordinary circumstances that exonerate them from blame. The updated rules say that only natural disasters and air traffic control strikes can be defined as extraordinary, but technical problems identified during routine aircraft maintenance cannot.

Pan-European View

These proposed revisions to the passenger protection law "Regulation 261",  requires approval by a majority of the Union's 27 member countries, as well as the European Parliament, aims to seek tougher oversight and enforcement of airlines' compliance with the law.

According to the European Consumer Centre, the number of airlines complaints increased across Europe by 96% between 2006 and 2010. The number was boosted significantly following the disruptions from the Icelandic volcanic eruption in April 2010. Many of these complaints were lodged either because the airlines did not respond themselves or the passenger's claim was denied.

A recent survey in Germany found that more than 20% of passengers received no response after filing a complaint with an airline, the commission said. Only 2 to 4% of passengers surveyed in Denmark, meanwhile, received compensation to which they were entitled.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas argues that the improved measures would also increase competition amongst carriers from the 27 member nations to offer the best conditions. "These rules only apply if you are on a European carrier. So my message is "Fly European," Kallas stated.

Aviation Industry Protections

Not all the changes, however, favour the passenger. Airlines have successfully argued they should not be liable for unlimited hotel bills for delayed customers. Under the new measures, airlines will have to pay for a maximum of three nights' hotel accommodation. Exceptions will be made for passengers with reduced mobility, unaccompanied children, or pregnant women.

Airlines will no longer have to pay compensation for delays or cancellations caused by severe weather or strikes, although their obligation to provide care – such as hotel accommodation for stranded passengers – will remain.

Another concession is that airlines will not have to pay compensation until a flight is delayed by at least five hours – two hours more than at present.

Under the current system, the right to compensation after only three hours made it more worthwhile for the airline to simply cancel the flight and save the cost of paying crew overtime, fuel and airport charges. By giving carriers an additional two hours to find an alternative aircraft or fix the mechanical problem, the EU believes that passengers will benefit from fewer cancellations.

Underpinning the changes is the belief that simplifying and clarifying the rules will bring an end to prolonged litigation with airlines challenging the provisions of ambiguous EU rules in the courts.

Today, some national laws may hinder air carriers from seeking redress from third parties responsible for the flight disruption.  This proposal lifts national restrictions on air carriers' right to seek compensation from responsible third parties; including airport authorities, traffic controllers and ground handlers, among others.

Conclusions

Eight years after the EU introduced its passenger rights legislation, the general public still does not fully understand the law; nor the potential repercussions if airlines are stretched too thin (increased airline ticket costs, for example).

According to SQ Law's Gialuca Meranda these new rules can serve to strengthen the competitiveness of the European aviation industry ('fly Europe to receive privileged protections') while at the same time supporting the interests of European consumers. "By focusing on transparency, compliance, and regulatory conditions that can stimulate investment, comprehensive and coherent regulation can benefit not only passengers but also the aviation industry as a whole", concludes Meranda.

About SQ Law

SQ Law is a global law group serving international private and corporate clients in virtually every area of cross-border law. Created in 2013 from the partnership between MPlegal in Italy and SQ-Law in Belgium, the group comprises a total of 5 partners and 25 multi-jurisdictional lawyers and boasts over 30 years of global experience. SQ Law are members of Legal Netlink Alliance (LNA) a group of carefully selected general practice independent law firms that share common high-level expectations of quality and integrity. The firm was awarded Corporate and Commercial Law Firm of the year - Italy by Deal Makers Monthly Magazine (2013); and Lawyer Monthly, Finance Monthly and M&A International Magazines (2012).

SQ Law - Trustworthy, Dynamic, Experienced.

SQ Law EEIG is an international group of independent law firms incorporated under Belgian law.

Media Contact:

Helen Bannigan Bannigan Communications LLC, +393495155306, helen@bannigan.com

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SOURCE SQ Law



2014

Tags

Airlines & Aviation, Passenger Aviation, Travel Industry, European Government, Legal Issues



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