MEP: 'A three-hour delay equals flight cancellation'

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The toughest challenge in the upcoming negotiations with EU member states regarding air passengers’ rights legislation is the definition of “extraordinary circumstances” for flight cancellations, according to Georges Bach, the rapporteur on the dossier for the European Parliament. Bach spoke to EurActiv Greece in an interview.

Georges Bach is a Luxembourg MEP from the Christian-Social party, affiliated to the European People’s Party (EPP). He spoke to Sarantis Michalopoulos from EurActiv Greece in Strasbourg.

Do you think that the airlines can currently afford the cost of increased compensations for passengers?

For me there will not be a big increase of compensations for passengers. For the moment, only 2% of people get compensation. In the future, with more information available for the passengers, with more possibilities for complaint, there will be an increase but on the other side, I think that the airlines will try to offer better quality. And when you have better quality, not only punctuality, then in future there is not going to be a big increase in compensations.

Do you expect hard reactions from the airlines?

At the beginning it was a hard discussion with them but the main problem was the “equalisation” of flight delays and cancellations. They were totally opposed to this equalisation of delayed flights and cancellations.

They wanted a separate legislation for cancellations. Nevertheless, there is a judgment from the Court of Justice which for me was binding, the Sturgeon Judgment. According to me, a 3h delay is like a cancellation. It was the basis for the start of the negotiations.

In the beginning, my approach was for two categories, the 3h and 4h delays. Commission’s proposals for delays were not a good basis for discussions, and we introduced also the 7h delay, which is in favour of airlines.

What are the toughest points in the negotiations with the EU Council?

The discussions were focused on the extraordinary circumstances especially the technical problems. This is going to be a big challenge in the negotiations with the EU Council. We asked for a closed list of extraordinary circumstances and the Commission for an open list.

The Commission wanted to have the possibility to have for instance a case of bird strike or something else introduced it in this list through a delegated act, but the Parliament was not so in favour of this delegated act, as it gives a lot of power to the Commission and on the vote you only can say yes or no, you can approve or reject it. You cannot amend it. That was the problem.

That’s why we preferred a closed list with clearly stated special circumstances.

Do you believe this vote has a political message for the EU citizens?

I think so. I am convinced that sometimes EU citizens are a bit skeptical; they don’t know what the European Parliament is doing in favour of them. The media only inform citizens about some special ideas of the European Commission.

The air passengers’ rights are like the legislation on roaming charges. Both send a clear message to the EU citizens that we introduce legislation in favor of them and “against” the industry. Millions of citizens travel by plane every year and this is a clear signal that the European Parliament is doing something good for citizens in Europe.

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