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Passenger rights to be further scrutinised at EU level

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) is to look into how passenger rights are implemented in the EU. The ECA will also look into how the European Commission has monitored implementation and reacted to problems related to passenger rights. The organisation will publish its report towards the end of next year.

“All European passengers —whether travelling by air, rail, bus or boat— are entitled to compensation when their trips are cancelled or delayed,” explained Brian Hayes MEP, adding that “many Irish people don’t realise that their protection extends to most forms of transport, and not just air travel.”

“Rules on passenger compensation are different for each transport mode. This is something all industry stakeholders accept because they understand that missing a long-distance flight to the other side of the planet does not have the same consequence as missing an intercity train.

“For example, rail passengers are entitled to compensation after a delay of one hour, compared to three hours in air transport and two hours for coaches. In rail, compensation ranges between 25% and 50% of the ticket price, a percentage similar to coach transport (50%). This does not apply in air transport, however, where there are fixed rate compensation amounts depending on the length of the flight.

But the way those rules are enforced can vary considerably between member states, which has led to the need for this complete audit, Mr. Hayes continued, citing the following examples:

  • Rail: Few countries currently comply with an EU regulation on rail passenger rights. “Extensive” exemptions were granted for local or national rail services, leading to confusion for travellers, according to a European Commission report.
  • Air: Airlines, for their part, often fail to comply with an EU regulation offering right to compensation in case of denied boarding, long delays, cancellations or mishandled baggage.
  • Coaches and boats: Rules there have only been introduced recently, so there is little evidence available to assess whether they are being effective or not.

Only about 2% of eligible passengers are successful in obtaining compensation, according to refund.me, an international service provider that helps passengers enforce their claims. Moreover, rules applicable to airlines and railways are inconsistent when it comes to compensation claims. In cases of airline delay, the  burden of proof lies with the customer, yet it rests with the rail operator in the case of rail delay.

“Passenger rights are one of the flagship policies delivered by the Commission, yet consumers still in the dark with regard to information about their entitlements,” Mr. Hayes said. “This ECA audit is good news for Irish passengers as it will hopefully go some way towards ensuring passengers are better informed about their rights and also that standards of practice are adopted across all member states.”

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