2.34 billion (3 times more than the total number of Europe’s population): that’s the number of passengers who used Europe’s airports last year. The air traffic above the continent is rapidly growing, taking half of all flights globally and setting a new record in 2018. But the booming expansion of the market requires passengers to fight for their rights harder and harder, even if they are protected by Regulation (EC) 261/2004. “15 years have passed since the document was implemented; today, it is morally outdated: the situations we face are beyond the regulation, so the European Commission must update it as soon as possible,” says Lukas Rasciauskas, the CEO of a flight claim compensation company Skycop.
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) released a report which states that while the EU’s commitment to passenger rights is indisputable, the system needs to improve to best serve passengers’ interests. Despite the fact that the EU regulation is unique, passengers are often not aware of their rights and lack practical information on how to defend them. Doesn’t that sound like a benefit for claim companies like Skycop?
“We never tried to benefit from passengers’ lack of knowledge. On the contrary, one of the main aims of Skycop is always to be on the passenger’s side – to inform, comfort and guide him through a stressful situation that disrupted flight can cause.
“ECA’s report is very abstract. It lacks a determination what really must be achieved – a clear regulation for airlines, claim agencies and civil aviation authorities. The relationship between these spheres is a bit strained today, causing passengers to suffer in the end, despite them being protected by Regulation (EC) 261/2004.
“Every day we face various situations that are interpreted differently. Take airlines strikes for example. Who is responsible for them? The Cologne District Court confirmed that it is beyond the airline’s control. But we bring cases to court and prove that they are claimable. And every case that the court proves to be claimable means that airlines lose more and must suffer extra costs. A happy ending for us and the passengers is not a happy ending for the airlines at all.
“Sure, we are glad that the EU passenger rights are comprehensive. That’s a unique and precious practice. But we have to fight in courts to establish the practical implementation of Regulation (EC) 261/2004, which it lacks. I believe the document is morally outdated.”
That’s a bold statement, don’t you think?
“European Commission released the document 15 years ago. And we all know how rapidly the world of aviation develops. There was no other time in all the history of civil aviation when the flights were as cheap or as frequent. People are traveling more and more, but they also find themselves in conflict with airlines more often.
“Why? According to statistics, flight delays on European flights doubled over the last year. Air traffic is so intense that the airports’ infrastructure can’t absorb it. The 7th of September 2018 was the busiest day in European aviation history, with 37,101 flights taking place over that single day. That’s unbelievable.
“Regulation (EC) 261/2004 was relevant 15 years ago. It was sufficient enough to solve problems of the time. But today, we have more questions than answers. If a flight was disrupted, it’s a passenger’s interest to receive compensation. On the other hand, the airlines try to avoid extra financial commitments. But they have to admit: money must be paid and the budget must be planned for extra costs.
Ryanair’s calculations show that for compensations to be paid, the price of every ticket has to be raised by 2 euros. Ryanair’s ticket price is 10 euros, so that’s 20% extra. But other airlines sell tickets starting from 150 euros, so those few euros wouldn’t change a thing. Do they save money for compensations, do European Commission or the European Court of Auditors oblige them to do so, that’s a different question.
Do you see any way out of this situation?
“ECA’s report offered 10 tips on how to make everyone’s experience better in case of the cancelled, delayed or overbooked flights. You can save yourself some time and money by doing a variety of things, from taking a photo of your luggage to keeping all the receipts.
“But I want to remind everyone that every passenger who experienced flight disruptions can file a claim and get compensation. My advice is to be informed.
“Read Regulation (EC) 261/2004 – it is available in all European languages – and don’t panic. If your flight was disrupted, that’s not the end of the world. As long as you know how to act in this situation, you’ll be safe.
“Airlines must feed you, host you, offer to reroute a flight and pay compensation. Those are your rights. Claim what’s yours. If you can’t, come to us. We will do the rest.
“Another thing that would help would be to officially oblige the airlines to inform every passenger about their rights. The notice could be sent with tickets. And I think it’s the job for the European Commission to establish this.”
Finland will assume the Presidency of the EU Council on the 1st of July 2019. That’s when Regulation (EC) 261/2004 can be reviewed. What do you think about the future of claim agencies?
“At this moment there are about 100 claim agencies in Europe, from one-man-shows handling a few cases to big and solid international companies. And they not only help seek compensation, but they also inform the passengers about their rights. They’re doing what the European Commission should do, but struggles to accomplish.
“I’m sure we will continue on our mission to lead air travelers out of the dark, as that’s where the airlines leave them. When clients come with claims, it’s our responsibility to enlighten them about airlines, airports, travel agencies, air travel in general. And we don’t want to leave a bad impression.
“People call us and ask for advice on how to act in different situations. We are always willing to help them. It doesn’t matter what the future of Regulation (EC) 261/2004 is. Flights will still be disrupted, passengers will still need a counselor. And Skycop will be there.”