The Air Passengers’ Rights Regulation 261/2004/EC was enacted in 2004 with the objective to enhance the protection of passengers engaged in air travel within, to or from the European Union. The key elements of the Regulation are passengers’ entitlement to compensation in cases of denied boarding and flight cancellations and – pursuant to a decision by the European Court of Justice – long delays and the obligation by air carriers to provide care and assistance to inconvenienced passengers. The Regulation exempts air carriers from compensation – but not from care and assistance – in case of flight cancellations and long delays caused by extraordinary circumstances. The term was left undefined in the Regulation.
The Air Passengers’ Rights Regulation and its interpretation by the CJEU have sparked considerable controversy not only in the airline industry, but also with legal commentators. Carriers have struggled to understand the precise scope of their responsibilities, a problem exacerbated by the ambiguous drafting of the Regulation and by seemingly arbitrary decisions by the CJEU and by significant exposures arising from the closure of the European air space caused by ash clouds in 2010. Passengers have also fared frustration in seeking to understand and enforce their rights under the Regulation.
Such difficulties triggered a review of the Regulation by the European Commission, which on 13.03.2013 released a package of proposed measures designed to clarify passenger rights and carriers’ obligations.
This article outlines some of the legal problems encountered with the interpretation of the The Air Passengers’ Rights Regulation and introduces some of the proposed amendments to the Regulation.Journal of European Consumer and Market Law