EU reveals plan to boost passenger rights in Europe

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street
Claudia Delpero, Europe Street - [email protected]
EU reveals plan to boost passenger rights in Europe
The European Commission wants to improve protection for travellers hit by cancellations. (Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

The European Commission has revealed how it wants to boost the rights of travellers in the EU who face disruption and cancellations, but airlines are not happy.


Considering the difficulties caused to travellers by incidents such as the Thomas Cook group bankruptcy in 2019 and the Covid-19 crisis, the European Commission has unveiled a series of proposals to improve rights for the millions who travel across Europe each year.

Regulation changes concern especially package travels, journeys using different types of transport and support for people with special needs.

These areas are not covered in current EU rules, which otherwise guarantee compensation and assistance when trips by air, rail, ship or bus are disrupted.

“The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the travel industry and reminded everyone of the importance of guaranteeing strong consumer rights at all times," said EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.

"During the pandemic, consumers faced mass cancellations or struggles as regards refunds from tour operators and travel agencies for cancelled packages. We drew the conclusions of these shortcomings in this revision of the package travel directive, and we decided to step up protection for travellers." he said.


Package travel

Under to the proposals, which still have to be adopted by the European Parliament and Council, customers booking a holiday package will have to be informed of who is responsible for reimbursement if there are problems.

Advance payments will be limited to 25 percent of the total price, unless the organisers have to sustain costs that justify a higher amount, for example if they have to pay the full flight ticket in advance. In addition, organisers will be able to request the full payment of a package holiday only 28 days before departure.

If a package is cancelled, travellers will continue to have a right to refund within 14 days and, to be able to comply, organisers will be entitled to a refund from service providers within 7 days.


New rules also concern vouchers, which became popular during the pandemic. Travellers offered a voucher following a cancellation will have to be informed about conditions before accepting it, and they will be able to insist for a refund. If a voucher is not used before the deadline, it will have to be refunded automatically. Vouchers and refund rights will also be covered by insolvency protection.

Multi-modal journeys

The Commission also says the right to assistance and compensation in case of disruptions and missed connections should be extended to so called ‘multi-modal’ journeys – when under one contract part of a journey is by train and another by plane, for instance.


People with reduced mobility who change from one transport mode to another during the journey will have to be assisted by carriers and terminal operators.

In addition, if an airline obliges a person with disabilities or with special needs to travel with another person to receive assistance, it will have to ensure the companion or carer travels free of charge, and when practical, seats next to the assisted passenger. This is already the case for rail, ship or coach travel, the Commission says.

The European consumer organisation BEUC broadly welcomed the proposals but was disappointed that it did not include insolvency protection in case of airlines bankruptcies and a right for consumers to cancel their tickets free of charge in times of crisis.

Airlines left unhappy

But European airlines were not happy with the proposals which they view as being too far reaching, especially with regard to advance payments limits.

“The main focus should be on ensuring that European package holiday providers remain competitive. Any over-regulation of package holidays will not improve consumer protection, but will instead result in higher costs for consumers," read a statement by Airlines for Europe (A4E), the association including the AirFrance/KLM group, Lufthansa, IAG, as well as Easyjet and Ryanair.

"This may encourage them to choose cheaper forms of travel that do not offer anywhere near the same protections as package travel,” the statement added.

Ourania Georgoutsakou, A4E Managing Director, said: “The proposed revision of the Package Travel Directive will change financial flows in the tourism sector during normal business times and risks negatively impacting the entire tourism value chain in Europe. It is disappointing that the pandemic, as a highly exceptional and unique situation, is being used as a benchmark for regulation.”

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA), which groups regional airlines, also warned about “further administrative burdens”.

ERA said it is positive that intermediaries will have to transfer passenger information to airlines as “this will avoid previous issues with passengers not being informed by travel agents of cancellations or delays.” But the group criticised the request for airlines “to publish reports on their handling of passenger rights”.

Some 13 billion passengers travel by plane, train, coach, bus or ferry in the EU every year, according to the Commission data, and the number is expected to increase to 15 billion by 2030 and almost 20 billion by 2050.




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