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EU passenger rights are comprehensive, but passengers still need to fight for them, say Auditors

The EU system of passenger rights is well developed, but passengers need to fight hard in order to benefit from them, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. Passengers are often not aware of their rights and lack practical information on how to obtain them, say the auditors. They make a number of recommendations for improvement, including automatic compensation for delays in certain situations, so that passengers do not have to claim for themselves. They also provide ten tips to help make all passengers’ travel experiences better.

The European Commission has established a set of core EU passenger rights common to the four modes of public transport - air, rail, waterborne and bus. The rights are guaranteed for each transport mode, although the extent of coverage and specific rules differ from one regulation to another.

To examine whether passenger rights are effectively protected, the auditors visited the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Finland and conducted two passenger surveys. They found that the extent of the regulations makes the EU framework unique globally. However, many passengers are not sufficiently aware of their rights and frequently do not obtain them due to problems with enforcement. In addition, while the core rights are meant to protect all passengers, the extent of protection depends on the mode of transport used.

The EU’s commitment to passenger rights is indisputable,” said George Pufan, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “But to best serve passengers’ interests, the system needs to be more coherent, more user-friendly and more effective.”

Numerous provisions in the regulations can be interpreted differently, and the amount of compensation provided for does not maintain its purchasing value, since there are no provisions for adjusting it for inflation. Limitations on the jurisdiction of National Enforcement Bodies and various exceptions significantly narrow the coverage of passenger rights, say the auditors.

The level of awareness among passengers remains relatively low, and awareness campaigns could have provided more practical guidance on what to do in cases of travel disruption. The current system of compensation places a significant burden on both carriers and passengers, and the procedures are not transparent. Passengers on the same journey can be treated differently and the approach to enforcing rights varies by mode of transport and Member State.

Karol, a passenger who replied to the auditors’ survey, related his experience: “All flights from Gdańsk were delayed because of bad weather. When air traffic was restored, the plane allocated to my route was eventually used to operate another flight. I filed a complaint, as did other passengers from my flight. Some of us did not get any compensation while others did, although the conditions for the delay were the same”.

Greta also participated in the survey: “I missed a train connection in Prague on a journey from Düsseldorf to Krakow. The through-ticket was sold by the German carrier, but part of the journey was operated by a Czech carrier. Due to the delay, the journey could only continue the next day. Both rail companies denied me hotel accommodation and I had to book a hotel in Prague at my own expense. Neither of the two felt responsible for reimbursing this cost or providing the compensation due for the delay”.

European Commission monitoring has led to clarification of the regulations, say the auditors. However, because the Commission does not have a mandate to ensure enforcement, there are discrepancies in the application of passenger rights.

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