European Commission needs clearer thinking on passenger rights

I absolutely support European Commission moves to protect the rights of passengers – it’s good for the passengers and good for the airlines. The fact is that entry hurdles to the airline industry are amazingly low, which is why so many go bust. It’s true that the constant flow of new entries keeps fares down, but financially insecure airlines do not make for a sound air transport system, and I have no doubt that overall they reduce safety levels.


Furthermore, airlines frankly don’t offer a great service to the travelling public, and they’re not getting better. If you love aviation then you’ll put up with a lot because, at least sometimes, you like to go flying. If you just want to get from A to B then air travel is a lousy experience and the contractual terms hugely favour the airlines. That needs fixing.


But that said, the Commission does some stupid things too – and it’s the regional airlines that have most cause to complain. The Commission has got it wrong in applying the customer-rights rules on cancellations and delays to the regionals in the way it does. The regionals really are exposed to the risk of ludicrous compensation claims under the current legislation – and, unsurprisingly, they’re off to court to fight that. Good luck to them.


This week the Commission has got it wrong again. It’s proposing legislation that would let passengers demand not to fly if an airline wet-leases in an aircraft to operate a flight – particularly if it does so at the last minute. It’s worrying enough that the Commission staff has sufficient time on its hands to be fiddling around in this sort of micro-detail, but the idea is daft anyway.


It primarily affects the regionals again, as they are much less likely to have their own back-up aircraft, and so much more likely to hire in extra lift. And why not? If the substitute aircraft is certificated and the crew legal then that’s the airline’s right. Indulging some know-all who’s got strong opinions about flying on ATR 42s rather than Dash 8s (or vice versa my Canadian friends) at the gate is just ridiculous.


There are very sound operators that provide these wet-leased aircraft – pretty much as their core business in some cases – and do a good job without which the mainline industry really would be in difficulties. There is no justification for hurting their business.


I hope the proposal dies, but it’s perilously close to the parliamentary stage and may still sneak through. Too bad.


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