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EU Commission to Revise EU261 on Air Passenger Rights

EU Commission to Revise EU261 on Air Passenger Rights
Passenger rights specialist refund.me has applauded efforts to clearly define extraordinary circumstances and curb airlines’ practice of circumventing EU Regulation EC 261/2004. Currently less than 2% of eligible passengers successfully claim compensation.
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The European Commission has proposed a revision of air passenger rights (EC 261/2004) that clarifies rules to ensure eligible passengers receive their compensation. Based on operating results since July 2012, refund.me estimates that less than 2% of eligible passengers successfully claim their money from airlines. This is a result of bureaucratic hurdles in the claiming process and lack of awareness: a survey of more than 1,000 UK residents found that fewer than 60% know their right to compensation. The proposed revision pushes the threshold for compensation on medium- and long-haul flights to five and seven hours, (up from three and five hours, respectively), but increases compensation for short flights under 2,500km to €300, from €250. The delay threshold for compensation on short flights remains unchanged at three hours.The proposed revision also clearly defines extraordinary circumstances, which since the implementation of the Regulation in 2005, have been a grey area used by airlines, especially low-cost carriers such as Ryanair or easyJet, to avoid compensation payouts. Technical problems inherent to the normal operation of the aircraft – problems arising from failure to correctly carry out maintenance or pre-flight checks – or crew unavailability are clearly excluded from the umbrella of extraordinary circumstances. Currently, many airlines reject valid claims for compensation on the premise of technical issues or crew unavailability.On the other hand, natural disasters, technical problems such as hidden manufacturing defects, security risks, life-threatening health risks or medical emergencies, air traffic management restrictions, extreme meteorological conditions and labour disputes are listed as extraordinary circumstances that would excuse airlines from their obligation to compensate passengers.

Refund.me hopes clarifying this point will lead to greater transparency and expediency in processing claims. The company, which operates across Europe in six languages, is processing claims against more than 230 airlines.

“With the threshold rising for medium- and long-haul flights, fewer passengers will be eligible for compensation,” said Eve Buechner, Founder and Chief Executive. “But we are confident that this clear definition of extraordinary circumstances and our push to increase awareness of passenger rights will encourage more people to claim. Our legal experts are there to help passengers navigate the complicated rules.”

Another key element of the proposed revision is the deadline of two months for “the air carrier to provide a full answer to the passenger”. Having processed claims for customers in more than 100 countries, refund.me has seen airlines outright ignore valid claims, or delay the process with artificial red tape such as requiring documents to be faxed or sent by certified mail. Under the proposed revision, if an answer is not provided within two months, the claim would be deemed accepted by the airline.

“We are happy to see that our efforts defending passenger rights are paying off. Where last year there were talks of revising the Regulation to ease restrictions on airlines, this proposed revision by the European Commission closes a number of loopholes that are currently used by airlines, especially low-costs, to avoid paying their own passengers what they are owed,” Eve Buechner added.

In addition to better-defined rules on compensation and extraordinary circumstances, the proposed revision to EU Regulation EC 261/2004 includes provisions to correctly inform affected passengers, a two-hour limit on tarmac delays (similar to what is in force in the USA) and the obligation to allow passengers to carry essential belongings, including coats and handbags, and one bag of duty-free shopping on board in addition to their carry-on luggage.  The revision also proposes better enforcement of compensation for delayed or damaged baggage.

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Michael Flood is an experienced travel expert with over 35 years' experience of the airline industry and the travel and tourism world.

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