Introduction

On 11 October 2018 the State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia decided, by a large majority, to launch a "passenger rights app". The new app is intended to promote consumer protection and help passengers to claim compensation easily via their mobile phones. It will be developed by the consumer advice centre and is expected to:

  • inform passengers of their rights;
  • perform claim checks; and
  • offer suggestions on how and where to assert claims.

Further, there are plans for the app to actively support the process of claiming compensation.

Context

The proposal was developed in the aftermath of the aviation summit in Hamburg on 5 October 2018 ("Aviation as a progress driver: A priority of German transportation policy – Strengthening the reliability of air traffic"), which was a national, high-level meeting.

On the initiative of the federal minister of transport and digital infrastructure and the City of Hamburg, a joint agreement was struck between the federal government, the federal states, airlines, airports, air navigation services organisations and associations on measures to increase the efficiency, reliability and punctuality of German air traffic to reduce bottlenecks and ensure a high level of safety.

Following the discussions, the meeting's participants agreed on 24 different measures. The following measures addressed airlines specifically:

  • Airlines will monitor time-critical flights more closely, flight delays will be resolved faster and airport turnaround times will be accelerated.
  • Flights which are susceptible to delays will be identified by comparing flight plans with actual short and long-term flight data, thereby releasing part of the planned aircraft rotation and allowing the flight to be taken over by another aircraft. This information may also be used to adjust flight plans.
  • Airlines will assess and where appropriate implement EU laws to waive the need to unload unaccompanied baggage to avoid delays.
  • The contact data supplied during booking will be used to provide airline passengers with comprehensive and prompt information regarding delays and cancellations (an early warning system). The relevant data is made available openly for this purpose.
  • If not available, each airline will set up central and competent contact points for passengers to:
    • pass on information in the event of delays;
    • process compensation claims; and
    • receive complaints.

Technical aids will also be used (eg, airline apps). Online access to information regarding compensation, complaints and arbitration will be clearly arranged.

  • Technical malfunctions of the aircraft will be minimised by optimising preventive maintenance.

Moreover, on 9 September 2018, before the aforementioned aviation summit, the deputy chair of the parliamentary group CDU/CSU in the Bundestag, Stephan Harbarth, released a paper on the better implementation of existing EU law. As a first step, he called for more transparency. For example, airlines must name the number of delays and persons thereby affected in their annual accounts. Additionally, airlines must disclose the compensation that they paid. Besides that, Harbarth called for airlines to issue passengers a document stating their rights in cases of delays, cancellations and overbooking. This document must also include information on the enforcement of those rights. Further, the plan proposed fining airlines for failing to pay compensation in time. Notably, the fine is not estimated in the paper. However, Harbarth proposed that it shall be "severe".

All of these recent developments show that Germany plans to toughen the existing rules under the current regime (ie, Regulation (EC) 261/2004) significantly. Although the details of the different proposals are unclear, the direction is apparent.

Comment

The question remains as to whether the underlying problems have been addressed sufficiently. Most delays are not caused by airlines themselves, but are due to capacity restrictions such as air traffic control problems and slot constraints. The aviation summit's measures can mitigate such capacity bottlenecks only slightly.

Airlines must expect to be burdened with further duties regarding passenger rights in the near future – including digital products (eg, airline or government-funded apps).

Thus, in addition to passenger claims, claim agencies, travel agencies, lawyers, courts, ADR or national enforcement bodies, another channel might become mandatory. Airlines should prepare for the changes ahead.

For further information on this topic, please contact Katja Helen Brecke or Ulrich Steppler at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by telephone (+49 69 97 98 85 0) or email (k.brecke@asd-law.com or u.steppler@asd-law.com). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.

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