The EU Parliament Transport Committee voted on Tuesday on amendments on the EU Commission’s proposal on revised air passenger rights.
“Today, we see massive abuse of passenger rights by certain airlines which simply ignore passengers’ complaints or requests, or systematically cite ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as grounds for denying them compensation”, said Georges Bach (EPP, LU), who is steering the legislative proposal through Parliament. “Due to lack of information and enforcement by authorities, only 2% of passengers entitled to compensation actually get it under current rules”, he added.
The legislative resolution was approved by 37 against 3 votes, with no abstentions.
In September, Reduced Mobility Rights submitted its suggestions for amendments to both the TRAN Committee and the European Commission. Four of these suggestions have become part of the legislative resolution approved yesterday.
The suggestions approved are a significant step forward for passengers with disabilities traveling by air.
At times, passengers miss flights because of delays caused by service providers. However, in such cases airlines decline responsibility for compensation. In the original proposal of the European Commission there was no mention of this problem.
To overcome this vacuum of responsibility, and ensure passengers with disabilities are looked after with dignity, Reduced Mobility Rights suggested that passengers with special needs missing a connecting flight due to delay caused by airport assistance services shall be adequately cared for while waiting for re-routing. In line with the principle of equal treatment, such passengers should be able to claim compensation from the airport managing body. The suggestion has been well received, and the following language was approved yesterday.
“Disabled passengers or passengers with reduced mobility missing a connecting flight due to delay caused by airport assistance services shall be adequately cared for while waiting for rerouting. such passengers should be able to claim compensation from the airport managing body on a similar basis to passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled by the air carrier.”
Another critical issue regarding passengers with reduced mobility concerns assistance during long delays and flights cancellations.
Reduced Mobility Rights highlighted that contingency plans for passengers with special needs are essential to guarantee the well being of the person during an extraordinary event. Persons who rely on the assistance of others are most vulnerable during such events therefore management plans must reflect the additional care required by passengers with disabilities. The original proposal of the EU Commission did not mention the inclusion of assistance providers in the drafting of such plans.
Additionally, the Commission did not mention who should be in charge of auditing such plans. Reduced Mobility Rights proposal says that National Enforcement Bodies shall audit contingency plans, and shall have the option of requiring changes to such plans when and where required. These suggestions have also been well received, and the following language was approved yesterday.
“The airport managing body and airports users such as air carriers, ground handling companies, navigation service providers for disabled passengers and passengers with reduced mobility should put in place adequate measures to enforce coordination and cooperation between airport users in order to minimize the impact of multiple flight disruptions by ensuring their care and re-routing. To this end, airport managing bodies should put in place adequate coordination by means of a proper contingency plan for such occurrences and work together with national, regional, and local authorities in the development of such plans. Such plans should be assessed by the national enforcement bodies who may require adaptations when necessary.”
The fourth and last suggestion concerns the rights of passengers traveling with their own wheelchair or other mobility device. Introducing the instrument to waive the limits of the Montreal Convention on lost or damaged wheelchairs and other assistive devices is the first step of a journey intended to provide passengers with special needs seamless access to the claim and refund process. However, air carriers must make passengers aware of this option at the time of booking, and again at check-in. Airlines must provide passengers with a template of the special declaration of interest. The proposal of the Commission did not make mention of when and how passengers with reduced mobility should be made aware of the opportunity of waiving the limits on damages to wheelchairs. The suggestion has been well received, and the following language was approved yesterday.
“In order to ensure that the damage to or loss of mobility equipment is compensated to its full value, air carriers and airport assistance providers shall inform disabled passengers or passengers with reduced mobility at the time of booking and again at the time of check-in of the opportunity to make a special declaration of interest, which pursuant to the Montreal Convention, allows them to seek full compensation for loss or damage.”
Other improvements brought to the proposal of the European Commission concern right of compensation, now due after three hours’ delay on for flights of up to 2,500 km (€300 compensation), five hours for flights of up to 6,000 km (€400), or seven hours for flights of over 6,000 km (€600).
Airlines must provide passengers detailed information on hand-luggage allowances (including possible extra charges) and complaint procedures with regard to air passenger rights and luggage handling should be provided at reservation and contact addresses for complaints clearly indicated on the ticket; Coats, handbags and at least one bag of airport shopping should be accepted on all flights, in addition to the prescribed maximum cabin baggage allowance; Passengers who have not used their outward flight must not be denied boarding or face any extra cost on the return flight; Free-of-charge assistance (food, drinks, accommodation when necessary) must be provided already after two hours’ delay, even in “extraordinary circumstances”.
The European Parliament vote is now scheduled for 4 February, to allow time to negotiate a first-reading agreement with Council before the May 2014 European elections.