EU Rules Again on Passenger Protection


The rules for passenger protection in Europe are going to be changing soon and there is both good news and a bad news on the horizon. The rules, commonly known as EC261/2004, are generally considered some of the most passenger-friendly worldwide; these changes probably won’t see that ranking change, but only because the rest of the world is still relatively unregulated in this regard. The rules changes are mostly focused on clarification of policies and efforts to ensure more even application, "[A] point has been reached where … a revision of the legislation itself is necessary to ensure that passenger rights work in practice as they should."

On the negative side of the ledger, the rules regarding compensation for delayed flights will now require longer delays than the prior version of the rules. The 2/3/4 hour thresholds for different flight distances will be raised to 5/9/12 hours. The 5 hour rule will also apply to tarmac delays, similar to the 3 hour rule in the USA, including the right for passengers to renounce the flight and be off-loaded with their fare fully refunded.

The definition of "extraordinary circumstances" with respect to what delay causes may require compensation has been clarified, with mixed results for passengers. Natural disasters and employee strikes will be considered extraordinary (i.e. no compensation should an ash cloud scenario arise) while mechanical issues, even those identified in routine maintenance, will not. Also, obligations in normal circumstances will only extend for three nights in most cases, reduced from the current unlimited duration. Bit of a mixed bag there, but having the clarity is a good thing.

Passengers with delays of longer than 12 hours will be able to insist on rerouting via alternative airlines. This move will most significantly affect the low cost carriers such as Ryanair which historically have not had such arrangements available. Additionally, passengers with misspelt names will be able to have them fixed for free up to 48 hours prior to departure. And delays on connecting itineraries will now be formally covered based on the ultimate arrival time at the final destination rather than just the initial delayed segment. Finally, airlines will no longer be able to cancel return segments if a passenger misses an outbound flight in an itinerary.

Overall these proposed changes seem mostly positive for passengers. It will be some time before these new policies take effect and there will likely be additional tweaks to the rules as consumer and industry responses to this draft are processed. But change is most definitely coming.

Photo credit: Ryanair via Shutterstock

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