Brussels considers withdrawing draft EU law on air travellers’ rights

Flight missing. Sleeping it off, at Heathrow. [Cary Bass-Deschenes/Flickr]

The European Commission is considering “all possible options” regarding a stalled proposal to bolster the rights of stranded air passengers, which could ultimately lead to the withdrawal of the package, officials say.

The Commission proposed rules two years ago to make it easier for stranded passengers to claim compensation by limiting the extraordinary circumstances under which airlines can refuse compensation for delayed or cancelled flights.

But talks among European Union member states have progressed slowly, and disagreements remain over issues such as the thresholds for compensation in case of delays and missed connecting flights.

In addition, the British-Spanish territorial dispute over Gibraltar has stalled the implementation of all EU aviation legislation since 2012, meaning any eventual agreement on the air passenger rights proposal would be put on hold until the issue is solved bilaterally.

With British elections looming next week and Spanish ones later this year, EU diplomats say there is little chance of that happening soon.

“The Commission is considering all options in order to achieve the best possible outcome,” said Jakub Adamowicz, spokesman for the European Commission.

“Both passengers and industry need certainty and that is what we hope to achieve with this revision of air passenger rights.”

An EU official said withdrawing the proposal was one of the options, especially “in light of the current situation”.

The executive will decide after the 28 EU transport ministers meet in June to take stock of progress.

An EU diplomat also said the Commission was thinking of withdrawing the proposal.

“Nobody wants to go for a compromise until that’s solved,” the person said, referring to Gibraltar.

Britain and Spain are at odds over the sovereignty of the isthmus that connects the British territory of Gibraltar to Spain.

Spain wants Gibraltar airport, which sits on the disputed land, to be excluded from EU aviation law until the debate is resolved.

Britain says that under the 2006 Cordoba agreement between London, Madrid and the Gibraltarian government, Spain agreed to stop seeking the exclusion of Gibraltar airport from EU aviation measures.

The Commission has said it will come forward with a new strategy to bolster the competitiveness of its aviation sector later this year, meaning it would be able to tackle the issue of passenger rights again.

The EU adopted in 2004 regulation 261/2004 that establishes compensation right for airline passengers who are denied boarding or whose flights have been delayed or cancelled.

Compensation depends on factors such as the length of delay and duration of the flight.

This “Air Passenger Rights” law took effect in 2005 and was due for review in 2012 by the European Commission.

Both airline and consumer groups are pressuring the EU executive for changes, with the industry arguing that more flexibility is needed while consumer groups say laws should also ensure passengers against delays or cancellations caused by airline bankruptcies.

EU regulations cover other areas as well, including the rights of passengers with disabilities, loss or damage to baggage, and full disclosure of airlines flying routes – to address the increasing practice of ‘code-share’ arrangements where passengers may book through one airline and actually fly on another.

The rules face their most severe test during inclement weather and, in April 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland that caused flight cancellations and travel disruptions for days in much of Europe. The airline industry is pushing for early clarification of where exceptions are allowed in extreme situations, including times of widespread inclement weather.

European Commission

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