On 3 April, the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) organized a roundtable debate in the European Parliament, kindly hosted and presided by MEP Pavel Telicka, who has been closely involved in many aviation policy files. The well-attended roundtable included representatives of the European Commission, European Parliament, Academia, consultants, consumer representatives and the airline industry.
The discussion was shaped by two key topics: Regulation 261/2004 and the way forward, and the potential implications of the New Deal for Consumers on passenger rights. Contributions by academics around the table showed that Regulation 261/2004 has fortified passenger rights considerably. Their studies also found that the existence of the claim handling industry has significantly helped in the enforcement of passenger rights and, by extension, the efficiency of airlines. This was underlined by a recent report by the European Court of Auditors. Whilst the airline industry would like to see changes, such as longer delays before compensation and a drop in the level of compensation for duped passengers, APRA argued that this would remove the strong incentive to do a better job that was created by the Regulation. The level of enforcement by national authorities of non-compliant airlines can be as low as 2% and the fines are very low. The New Deal for Consumers seeks to strengthen consumer rights by offering possibilities for collective redress. Some of the potential drawbacks of the proposal may be that it causes lengthy processes and could add to the complexity of enforcing passenger rights.
To conclude the debate, APRA presented the European Institutions with its new publication: Regulation 261/2004: Stand for Passenger Rights, which outlines why passengers need the Regulation and why it works. It also includes APRA’s self-imposed code of conduct, which it has made mandatory for all of its current and future members; real case studies of the far-reaching impact delays and cancellations can have on passengers; a suggested code on fair claim handling for airlines; and key recommendations for the EU Institutions.
APRA President Christian Nielsen said: “The Regulation works. In fact, it works so well that countries like Canada are copying it. Any ambiguities that had been identified in Regulation 261/2004 have meanwhile been made crystal clear through a series of landmark Rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The problem is not a lack of passenger rights, but a lack of compliance and enforcement. What bothers us is that airlines like to claim that complying with the Regulation is causing airlines to go bankrupt. Yet, they are not willing to show any figures to back these claims up. We know that many airlines have gone out of business because they are taking aggressive business decisions for competitive reasons, not because of complying with passenger rights. I believe it is time we start looking at the real problems, such as infrastructure and the many strikes within the aviation industry, and stop trying to reduce the rights of passengers”.