Germany’s government plans to bolster passengers’ air travel rights

Going nowhere fast. Source: AP

The German government hurriedly approved a class action-style litigation for consumer claims to ensure Volkswagen customers can fight for reimbursement from the carmaker. But they overlooked another unsatisfied group: air travel passengers.

Nothing in the new law that Berlin passed in June addresses air travelers’ right to fight airlines for compensation if flights are delayed or canceled. That protection is necessary as recently, the budget airline Ryanair updated its General Terms and Conditions to make it harder for passengers to file compensation claims using passenger rights portals.

Ryanair’s controversial assignment clause prevents customers from using third-party platforms, like Flightright and EUClaim, to investigate whether they are entitled to compensation, damages or reimbursements.

Third-party providers are one of the most effective ways for consumers to fight for their rights, especially for small claims. Otherwise, passengers can either file on their own or forego the process entirely. It’s not consumer friendly, CDU politician Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker told Handelsblatt.

Working on commission

Ryanair’s changes are not only troubling for infuriated passengers but also pose a considerable threat to third-party, legal-service providers.

Passengers are entitled to up to €600 ($695) if there are delays and flight cancellations, according to EU Passenger Rights Regulations. If affected, travelers can sign up with an online legal-service provider, which attempts to recover a refund for a commission. Passengers can also relatively easily file claims on their own to avoid paying the commission, but portals make the process more convenient.

Flightright, which receives 25 percent of the compensation plus VAT if the portal is successful in securing a reimbursement, reported a compensation volume of some €700 million in 2017.

Ryanair spokesperson Robin Kiely told Handelsblatt that third-party providers do not offer “any useful services,” which is why they changed their terms. The airline wants to ensure customers “receive 100 percent of their EU claim without having to deduct costs for compensation companies.”

Delays for days

The changes likely have more to do with increasing delays in European air traffic and the danger posed by these handy platforms. The latest numbers from the IATA aviation association show that delays more than doubled this year and in the first half of 2018, aircraft were late a total of 47,000 minutes every day on average. Compared to the same period in 2017, that is a 133 percent increase.

Germany’s air travel woes have finally reached government officials. Talks are underway with the country’s justice and consumer ministry to pass a “Ryanair lex” to keep assignment clauses like those used by Ryanair from being implemented by other airlines, according to SPD politician Johannes Fechner.

“We will quickly submit a proposal and, if necessary, append it to a current draft law to save time,” Mr. Fechner told Handelsblatt. “These clauses only make it more difficult for customers to obtain their entitled compensation.”

Dietmar Neuerer is the political correspondent for Handelsblatt Online. Christine Coester, an editor at Handelsblatt Global, adapted this story into English. To contact the author:

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