The international carriage of passengers by air, as the mode of transport that most suits the needs of modern times, is also regulated within the framework of the European Union law. The expansion of this mode of passenger transport has led the European Union’s legislative bodies to undertake the process of creating and shaping communitarian law by adopting regulations that ensure a significant level of air passenger rights. The Regulation no. 261/2004 was adopted as a result of the actions of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers of the European Union who, under the Maastricht Treaty, were entrusted a legislative function. This Regulation stipulates the general rules for compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding or extended flight delays.
A reason for the adoption of the Regulation lies in the Member States’ intention to eliminate or at least significantly reduce the negative consequences of denied boarding and delayed or cancelled flights, by raising the standards of passenger rights. The importance of legal regulation of this issue is also reflected in the fact that the legislative bodies of the European Union have decided to regulate it by adopting this Regulation, as an act which will have direct application and effect in all EU Member States, without the need for individual states to adopt implementing acts or otherwise intervene to make the norms of the Regulation as a part of the internal legal order. Therefore, the norms governing the rights enjoyed by air passengers in the event of denied boarding, and delayed or cancelled flights, are fully unified and applied uniformly throughout the European Union. On the other hand, Member States of the European Union are prohibited from taking any legislative action in this field or enacting regulations, contrary to the provisions of the Regulation. The scope of the Regulation is not limited solely to flights within the territory of the Member States of the European Union, since its provisions apply to both passengers traveling from an airport located in the territory of a Member State of the European Union as well as to passengers traveling from third countries to an airport located in the territory of a Member State, in accordance with the conditions specified in the Regulation. In addition, citizenship of passengers is not relevant to the enjoyment of the rights and benefits guaranteed by the Regulation, so citizens of EU Member States and third-country citizens enjoy the equal rights.
Ratione materiae, the Regulation stipulates the minimum rights in three different situations:
1) Denying boarding contrary to the will of a passenger,
2) Flight cancellations,
3) Flight delays.
Denied boarding contrary to the will of a passenger occurs in situations where an air carrier reasonably expects to be denied boarding, and consequently there is no sufficient number of volunteers ready to cancel their booking, despite recognized benefits. A flight cancellation exists when a flight was previously scheduled and at least one seat was booked. On the other hand, a flight delay is when an airline flight takes off and/or lands later than its scheduled time.
In case of denied boarding, cancelled or denied flights, under the conditions prescribed by the Regulation, passengers are entitled to compensation, the right to reimbursement of the ticket, the right to re-routing, as well as the right to care, which includes the right to free meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation in certain cases, as well as transportation from the airport to the accommodation. When it comes to the amount of compensation, it depends on the length of flight, and it ranges between EUR 250-600, but the stated determined amounts do not affect the rights of passengers to claim additional compensation. The Regulation also stipulates that a passenger transferred to a class lower than the one for which he/she purchased the ticket is entitled to a fee that is determined as a percentage of the ticket price, and the amount of the percentage is determined according to the length of the flight. In case, the passenger is transferred to a class higher than the one for which the ticket was paid, the carrier is not entitled to claim any additional compensation.
The air carrier is also obliged to adequately inform the passenger by written notification of the rights and benefits that belong to the same in accordance with the provisions of the Regulation.
Author: Igor Letica