The past week has seen some good news for passengers in the way of consumer protection rulings from regulators. Two pending court cases in Europe have concluded, both in favor of passengers. And the US Department of Transportation has also moved to protect travelers in certain circumstances as well.
The two court cases were tests of the EC 261/2004 law which covers passenger rights for delayed or canceled flights. One case was brought by a passenger who was bumped from his flight by an airline attempting to recover from flight cancelations due to a strike two days prior. The airline claimed that the strike represented "extraordinary circumstances" and that they were no longer liable for paying compensation claims to affected customers. The airline was trying to get the initially delayed passengers moving as quickly as possible and bumped other confirmed passenger to achieve this. The court ruled that such an approach would require compensation for the bumped passengers.
The second case involved a couple traveling on a connecting itinerary where the first flight was delayed. The airline assumed they would miss the connection and gave away their seats. When the pair made it to the gate they were denied boarding and the airline claimed the missed connection did not require compensation. The Court disagreed, noting that the passenger were at the gate in time to make the flight; the airline’s presumption of a missed connection was inappropriate.
Perhaps most significant from these cases is that the scope of the regulatory protection is being expanded and strengthened. As one of the rulings noted:
[L]imiting the scope of ‘denied boarding’ exclusively to cases of overbooking would have the practical effect of substantially reducing the protection afforded to passengers under Regulation No 261/2004 and would therefore be contrary to the aim of that regulation.… Consequently, a broad interpretation of the rights granted to passengers is justified.
Over in the United States consumer protection isn’t quite as strong but the Department of Transportation continues to flex its muscles. This month the Agency fined British Airways $250,000 for violating rules related to marketing of fares and their frequent flyer program. The main violations cited by the DoT were based on failure to appropriately identify round-trip fare requirements in sale adverts and failure to properly disclose taxes and fees associated with award flights. British Airways charges a carrier-imposed fuel surcharge on many routes, a fee which can run into the hundreds of dollars. But, as the DoT noted, the carrier didn’t properly account for that in some marketing materials:
For example, one promotion in connection with British Airways credit cards advertised two tickets to London without disclosing that, in order to obtain reward travel tickets, passengers were required to pay mandatory surcharges imposed by the carrier that could total as much as $600 per person.
Also in the list of violations for which British Airways was fined was violation of international treaties covering lost luggage. The carrier was not fully in compliance with the Montreal Convention which covers lost, stolen or damaged bags. Specifically BA attempted to exclude certain items from the coverage, a move the Treaty prohibits.
The enforcement action in the USA is not directly beneficial to passengers the way the EU rules apply. Still, in both cases the regulators seem to be focused on improving the travel experience. That’s definitely a good thing.