The recent European Courts ruling for guaranteeing
passengers compensation for flight delays or cancellations again brings to
the table the discussion concerning consumer’s rights in the field of
travel related legislation.
While the low cost airlines were quick off the mark to
react angrily to the new ruling, which comes into force in February,
claiming the compensation is out of line with ticket purchase prices.
Many observers in the tourism industry however , are
asking is it ‘fair’ and does
the ruling have any implications on passenger safety and costs?
I guess at the heart of the issue is what is reasonable
and fair in relation to a delayed or cancelled flight? Certainly, the
industry well understands that acts of god, war, strikes, congestion and
weather are all beyond the scope of responsibility of any individual airline
and that compensation is not normally paid.
However, each airline will deal with individual cases on
their merits and according to their own pre-set rules and regulations. Some
will exceed the minimum required by law and others will follow strictly to
the letter. First Class, Business Class and frequent flyers may well be
dealt with under a separate set of rules and regulations.
If delays are down to the airline, such as overbooking or
poor maintenance then I guess there is no argument where the blame lies. The
new legislation sets the price for a passenger bumped off a flight at USD
725 per passenger. For flight delays of two to four hours airlines are
required to serve snacks or full meals and delays over five hours entitles
passengers to a refund and a hotel room if necessary. Ultimately, who will
be paying these higher compensation charges? The airlines or the passengers?
In the hotel industry, we have, I believe, behaved
reasonably and fairly in dealing with ‘out bookings’. A hotel which has
guaranteed a reservation and is not able, for whatever reason, including
acts of god, to provide the accommodation, that hotel has in my experience,
accepted full financial responsibility to find alternative accommodation.
Including paying any transfer costs to and from the hotel, with an option
for the guest to return to the hotel the following day, usually with an
upgrade to a suite or similar and profound apologies from the hotel.
Too much? Not really, particularly if the individual
happens to be a frequent guest and you want them to remain loyal and return
In the European ruling, there is recognition of the fact
that a business traveller may need to be compensated for the entire round
trip journey in the event of a missed business meeting, negating the main
reason for travelling.
Fair or not? Most of us would say fair. After all, as
passengers we follow strictly the booking procedures and arrive at the
airport at the designated time and place and generally do what we are told.
We also face a financial penalty in the event of a change of date of travel,
if travelling on a restricted ticket.
Will this lead to higher prices or heaven forbid yet more
surcharges to the end users? My belief is - most definitely. The biggest
question however is whether it will be widely accepted by the airlines.
There will be intense lobbying by the European Airlines to oppose it and for
the non European Airlines it will most likely be ignored.
As to safety - increased pressure to get mechanical
objects flying on schedule, on time and in all weather conditions either
means better attention to repair and maintenance or simply cutting corners.
It is not for me to suggest what will happen, but I guess the more
responsible airlines, if forced to accept the new ruling, will take an
equally responsible attitude to safety. The increase cost of aircraft been
serviced more frequently to avoid disruption and cancellations, will however
be passed on to the end user.
Moreover, passenger cancellation insurance will likely be
affected. If the airlines are made more accountable financially, will this
lead to higher premiums or reduce pressure on individuals to purchase cover
for potential mishaps?
Whatever happens if the new legislation does take effect
it will have a number of repercussions and in my mind one of those is more
expensive air travel.
Andrew J Wood, General Manager Chaophya Park Hotel
and Resorts, Thailand.