As the holiday season begins, passengers leaving from European airports should be confident about their rights in case of flight delays, cancellation or lost luggage. Tomorrow, at 28 airports across Europe1, European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) will be at hand to offer advice to European citizens about their air passenger rights. The ECC-Net offers citizens free advice about their rights when travelling and shopping across borders. They can also help them solve problems with traders in another EU country (plus Iceland and Norway) when things go wrong.
Vice-president of the European Commission Siim Kallas, responsible for Transport, said: 'When something goes wrong during travel, passengers need to know their rights and where to get help. Consumers who are aware of their rights and know how to use them can fully exploit the potential of the Single Market, to make it work for them. The Airport Day just before the summer holidays is another great opportunity for passengers to get useful information about their rights when travelling by air'.
Health and Consumer Commissioner John Dalli said: "European Consumer Centres are helping citizens with practical cross border consumer problems every day and often help solve disputes quickly and easily. I welcome today's targeted information campaign which gives the right information at the right time. We support ECCs because we want to help citizens see their rights properly enforced."
Why does this matter?
In 2011, European consumer centres dealt with around 28 000 complaints related to cross border purchase of services or goods. The top concern, representing one fifth of all complaints (more than 5 600) concerned air travel. The main causes for complaint were cancelled flights (about 30% of the cases), delays (24%), lost or damaged luggage (15%), but also denied boarding, non-transparent prices and surcharges, technical problems in the booking process or unfair commercial practices. European consumers deserve to get clear information about their rights, and help to resolve problems quickly and easily.
European Consumer centres succeeded in helping consumers get an amicable solution with airlines in almost 50% of cases in 2011. They also work closely with national authorities in charge of enforcing the relevant passenger rights legislation (NEBs) and refer unsolved cases to them or to other bodies which help consumers solve problems out of court (Alternative Dispute Resolution entities -ADR).
Enforcing consumer rights is not just good for consumer s but also benefits business and the European economy. Empowering Europe's 500 million consumers, whose expenditure amounts to 56% of EU GDP, will be a key contribution to growth.
Case Study – European Consumer Centres helping air passengers
A Belgian passenger booked 5 tickets for herself and her family for a flight from Brussels to Barcelona from a non-Belgian airline. On the day of departure, they checked in and boarded the plane at 9.30 am. However, because of a technical problem, all passengers had to leave the plane and they remained at the airport until 11.45 pm but received no information during that time. After waiting for 14 hours, the Belgian passenger filled in a complaint form and went back home. Since the airline did not reply, she contacted the ECC Belgium. With the Centre's help she received a refund for the air tickets (€963.75) and €250 compensation per passenger (€1,250). More ECC consumer stories at http://ec.europa.eu/ecc-net
What else do European Consumer Centres do?
The Centres operate in 29 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland) offering online as well as direct advice for consumers shopping cross-border.
When consumers run into problems (e.g. with a refund, repair or replacement to which they are entitled under EU rules) and have not been able to reach an understanding with the trader directly, the Centres can intervene on the consumers' behalf. This often involves contacting the Centre located in the country of the trader which will in turn speak to the trader.
The European Consumer Centres Network (the ECC-Net) is co-financed by the European Commission and national consumer protection authorities.
What is the relevant legislation for air passengers?
EU legislation2 covers passengers departing from EU airports or arriving to an EU airport from outside the EU with an airline company registered in the EU. Passengers are entitled to get accurate information about their rights as well as assistance in case of flight disruptions such as delays, cancellations or denied boarding. Under certain circumstances passengers may also be entitled to reimbursement of their tickets and/or compensation. There is also legislation protecting passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility from discrimination at reservation, booking or travel3 . These passengers are entitled to receive assistance free of charge to enable them to travel on an equal footing with other passengers. The Montreal Convention regulates lost and damaged luggage.
There are also common rules4 for the operation of air services in the EU which regulate inter alia price transparency of air fares and air rates.
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