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European Air Passengers' Complaints Up In 2006

Air passengers' complaints up in 2006 - Report from the European Consumer Centre Network

Commenting today on the European Consumer Centre Network's Report on Air passenger complaints handled by their centres in 2006, EU Consumer Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva welcomed the report and congratulated them for this important and comprehensive view of problems encountered by consumers day to day. She said the report is completely in line with what we want to do in terms of investigation followed by enforcement, as was done in the recent 'sweep' investigation of websites selling airline tickets.

The report, which analysed problems handled by the ECC centres across Europe found that the main problems concerned: luggage problems-33%, cancellations-26%, delays-16%. The complaints analysed in the report demonstrate that the legislation on air passenger rights is not fully respected and that with a doubling of complaints in this area in 2006, work remains to be done to ensure that consumers get the protection they are entitled to.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said "This Report confirms our own analysis of the situation. The vast majority of passengers have no problems, but some people do encounter difficulties and I want to ensure that they get the treatment to which they are entitled. We have pushed the national authorities and the airline industry very hard over the past six months to agree on how to improve things. We have made a lot of progress, but I will now keep a close eye on the situation over the next year."

The report makes a series of 34 recommendations which the Commission will study attentively.

The report

This is an independent report carried out by the ECC Network in 27 European countries. The report was led by the ECC centres in Belgium, Ireland and Sweden. Since the ECCs deal specifically with cross-border complaints and disputes, they are in a unique position to document the problems consumers face when shopping in the internal market.

The report analyses air passenger complaints received in 2006, which were up 96% on 2005, when EU rules on delays, cancellations and denied boarding first came into force and a full information campaign was launched.

The Report comments on the problem areas, covering all issues, not just those covered by Community legislation. It highlights the work done by each ECC that year and suggests recommendations for possible improvement. Problems identified included: a lack of clarity in the legislation; lack of development of Alternative Dispute Resolution bodies (ADRs) or a fully functioning National Enforcement Body network; insufficient response from airlines.

Recommendations and progress to date

The report makes 34 recommendations: some are already being implemented, others have been identified for target action and others will need to be discussed further.

In respect of Regulation EC No 261/2004, which concerns denied boarding, long delays and cancellations the Commission has undertaken work in the following areas:

* The Commission has worked with NEBs and airlines towards agreement on a clear division of labour and responsibilities in complaint handling and exchanging information;

* The Commission has worked with NEBs and airlines towards clarifying the day to day operation of some parts of the relevant legislation where there is scope for different interpretation.;

* The Commission is analysing national measures introduced to enforce Community law on air passenger rights to check that appropriate measures are in place;

A standard EU Air Passenger Complaint Form has been created which will be available to the public in early 2008. Information material for passengers on their rights has been redesigned and clarified.

It should be noted that cases on long delays and cancellation are currently before the Court of Justice, which should give a clear interpretation of the legislation.

In respect of other consumer actions that relate to air passengers, the Commission will examine:

* The encouragement of good mutual cooperation between the NEBs, and between the ECC Net and NEBs

* The development of ADR bodies

* The creation of a universal register of required travel documentation to be used by all air carriers

* An obligation on all airlines makes available their contact details to complain, via telephone, email and post.

* The particular relevance of the European small claims procedures


The European Consumer Centre (ECC) Network

The European Consumer Centre (ECC) Network consists of centres in 27 European countries. It provides information to consumers on their rights, and assists them with cross-border disputes. The Network is co-financed by the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General of the European Commission and by each of the national governments. Air passenger complaints remain the highest category of complaint they receive. The ECC network has proven to be successful in resolving a certain number of complaints (in 2006, the ECC Net resolved 42% of complaints received) on an amicable basis.

The legal framework

The legal framework for the cases handled by the ECC network is the Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 and the Montreal Convention. Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 applies in cases where a flight is cancelled or delayed, or when a passenger is denied boarding.

The Montreal Convention establishes the air carrier's responsibility when the consumer suffers (economical) damage due to a flight delay or when their luggage is lost, damaged or delayed.

In the 2006 report, half of the complaints received concern passenger rights under Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 and the other half concern damages after delay under the Montreal convention.


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