Each year millions of Europeans travel in and outside the EU, using planes, trains, buses and boats. As passengers they have certain rights, but these are often little known or even ignored. On 23 October MEPs will vote in plenary on a proposal to strengthen them, especially carriers' obligation to inform passengers about their rights.
“Passengers should be better informed about their rights when they book a trip," said Georges Bach. The Luxembourg Christian-Democrat, who wrote a non-binding report on passenger rights, continued: "Online airfares should be more transparent. We also need to improve information during travel.”
Mr Bach recommends setting up info points in departure and arrival halls to tell people about delays, cancellations or other problems, and also calls for a single complaint form with fixed time limits for processing.
What hardships do people experience most while travelling by plane or train? An informal survey conducted by Mr Bach at the European Parliament revealed that about half of the problems were about delays, missed connections and cancellations.
Other problems were related to inadequate information, luggage handling, failure to assist people with reduced mobility and unclear online pricing. Almost a quarter of air travellers who complained received no reply, while 15% of rail complaints went unanswered.
Complex system of rights
Passenger rights are laid down in several EU regulations. Depending on the mode, rights differ as regards the extent of assistance to stranded passengers, compensation, definitions of delays and possible exceptions.
Last year, the Commission published a communication to help carriers and national authorities apply and enforce EU rules in a more coherent way across all transport modes.
Mr Bach said: “We need a single cross-cutting passenger rights regulation, but this should be our midterm goal (in 5-10 years). Because currently we have different experiences and some of the rules are not yet in force.” New rules for ship and bus passengers will enter into force from December 2012 and March 2013 respectively.
To close any loopholes, Commission plans a revision of air passenger rights, to be tabled by the end 2012 or early in 2013.
- non–discrimination in access to transport
- free assistance for disabled passengers
- reimbursement, rerouting or rebooking in case of long delays, cancellations or denied boarding
- correct and timely information about ticket price, rights and journey circumstances
- quick and accessible complaint handling system