Monday

20th Jan 2020

Brussels wins battle over stranded air passenger directive

  • A commission move to help stranded passengers has upset air carriers (Photo: Airbus)

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday (10 January) backed the European Commission and dismissed airlines' claims that an EU air passenger law from last year regulating compensation for people stranded at airports is invalid.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFA) have claimed that the law, obliging them to provide food, accommodation and reimbursement for stranded passengers, is discriminatory and in breach of international treaties.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"The regulation on compensation and assistance for air passengers is valid," the ECJ said in Tuesday's ruling, which also dismissed the low fare air carriers' stance that compensation sums were discriminatory against them.

Compensation sums under the regulation range from a minimum of €250 and up to €600, while low fare airline tickets can cost less than a tenth of the minimum sum on the scale.

"The amount of compensation does not appear excessive and essentially amounts to an update of the level of compensation laid down by a previous regulation, taking account of inflation," the court said.

At the cancellation of a flight the airline must offer passengers a choice between reimbursement of the ticket cost or re-booking them on a flight to their final destination. And, should the plane be delayed by more than five hours, passengers must be reimbursed.

By introducing the regulation last February, the commission hoped to stamp out the airlines' common practice of intentionally overbooking flights, leading to boarding being denied for passengers who turn up late to the boarding desk, despite holding valid tickets.

Regulation mixes apples and oranges

ELFA secretary general Jan Skeels told EUobserver that the commission's original aim with the regulation was noble, but carried out wrongly.

"The commission should have increased the penalty for airlines that overbook on a systematic basis," she said, explaining that airlines estimate the average amount of passengers that do not turn up to certain flights, and intentionally overbook to make sure seats are filled.

However, Ms Skeels said that by mixing overbooking with flight cancellation and delays, the commission is shooting above its target, as 85 percent of cancellations or delays are due to factors outside airlines' control.

Airlines argue that they cannot be held responsible for delays and cancellations caused by bad weather, saturated air traffic, security demands or strikes. They estimate that the total cost to the industry of this regulation will top €600 million annually.

Airlines will try political path

IATA said that since the airline industry with Tuesday's ECJ ruling had emptied the legal possibilities of overhauling the law, they would shift their focus to a political approach, in order to persuade the commission to review its air transport policy as a whole.

"Europe needs better regulation. We will appeal to common sense," IATA spokesperson Tony Concil told EUobserver, arguing that the regulation does not only go against global air industry standards, but is also not beneficial for passengers.

"The industry looses approximately €600 million a year with this regulation and the industry will have to recuperate that money somehow."

EU transport commissioner, Jacques Barrot, on Tuesday called the result "very good news for European citizens."

"The European court now confirms EU legislation giving [passengers] certain rights when their flight is overbooked, delayed or cancelled."

MEP Philip Bradbourn, conservative transport spokesman in the European Parliament also praised the outcome of the court case.

"This is good news for air passengers. Finally there is no doubt as to the liability of airlines for unwarranted delays...Responsible airlines have been providing compensation on a voluntary basis for years - this judgment now means that the cowboys in the airline industry will be forced to change their ways," he said.

New rights for passengers facing cancelled flights

New EU rules to boost passenger compensation from airlines are set to come into force on Thursday. Critics of the legislation say that passengers will bear the costs through more expensive airline tickets.

Agenda

Davos and Libya in focus This WEEK

The all-powerful will meet in Davos after Berlin tries to resolve the Libyan conflict over the weekend, while MEPs will set the stage for final ratification of the Brexit deal.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Opinion

Why EU subsidy schemes don't work - the evidence

Counter to popular beliefs among policymakers, the positive effects of support schemes are found to be very limited. In order to revitalise Europe, the newly appointed EU Commission needs to reconsider government's role in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Catalan MEPs Puigdemont and Comin look for a party

The former head of the Catalan regional government, Carles Puigdemont, and one member of his government, Toni Comín, have requested to join the Greens/EFA group - but they do not close the door to other political groups.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Boost for Right in post-Brexit EU parliament

The far-right Identity and Democracy will overtake the Greens as the fourth-largest party in the European Parliament on 1 February, after the UK's MEPs vacate their seats.

Opinion

Why EU minimum wage is actually bad idea for workers

As president of one of the largest trade union confederations in the EU, I see the need for good working conditions and decent pay in all member states - but an EU-wide minimum wage could be used to lower wages.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us