Currently, the reforms of rail and air passenger rights, which are established at European level, are negotiated in Brussels. Even though a current study by the Commission determines a need for action, passengers might enjoy fewer rights in future, in particular in respect of possible compensation in case of delays or cancellations.
Based on four separate regulations for air, rail, ship and ferry as well as bus and coach, the European Union guarantees minimum rights for passengers. These rights comprise among other information and assistance in case of delays or cancellations, organising rerouting of the journey as well as compensation in case of long delays or cancellations.
A current survey of the European Commission shows that in 2018 alone more than 30 million passengers had been affected by delays or cancellations. In more than half of the cases, the delays were between two to three hours. However, only 43 % of the people affected were aware of their rights. At 49 %, air passengers’ awareness of rights is above average. As it is up to transport operators and national authorities respectively to implement these rights and due to the fact that all of these apply different rules, the Commission is aware of the fact that passengers find it sometimes difficult to know who to contact in case of problems.
The publication of the study has given new impetus to the discussion on amending air passenger rights. As early as 2013, the Commission had presented a revision of the Air Passenger Rights Regulation, which had been in force since 2004. Whilst in the following year the European Parliament had adopted its position, the Council so far has been unable to agree on a position. However, negotiations have been intensified again under the Croatian Presidency.
However, from the perspective of air passengers, the negotiations have gone in the wrong direction: the Commission draft of 2013 provides for compensation to be paid only in case of delays of five hours or more; in case of long distance flights only for delays of twelve hours or more. As before, no compensation has to be paid in the event of extraordinary circumstances. In future, not only safety-relevant technical defects, but also strikes shall be regarded as extraordinary circumstances. The consequence of this proposal would be that compared to the current interpretation of the Regulation, the majority of air passengers would not receive any compensation in future.
From a consumer perspective, there is no need to change the duration of the delay or to list extraordinary circumstances, which lead to the non-payment of compensation. Instead, one should, as has been the case so far, always check whether the airline has taken all reasonable measures to prevent delays or cancellations. Airlines should also be obliged to react to complaints within a certain period of time. In respect of cases, where a passenger has not embarked on one part of her or his journey, it should be enshrined in law that the return flight and other flights of the same booking respectively are not forfeited. Apart from that, changing a name should be made easier - for example if a passenger made a slip of the pen when purchasing the ticket.
Rail passenger rights
Currently, changes to passenger rights are not only discussed in respect of air but also of rail traffic. Here, the negotiations between Commission, Council and Parliament have already reached the final trilogue negotiations. However, the controversial issues are similar: until now, rail has been the only mode of transport, where extraordinary circumstances did not play a role, when the question was to pay compensation or not. The Commission intends to change this with its 2017 proposal. However, in its Report, Parliament fortunately did not support this. Apart from this, according to the Chamber of Labour, the purchase of so-called through-tickets, hence journeys involving several train journey and in some cases also different rail operators should be made easier and the rights of passengers should be safeguarded.