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The fight for your passenger rights

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The European Commission is scheduled to unveil new passenger mobility legislation on Wednesday (29 November), with the package aimed partly at improving passenger rights for flyers in a post-COVID world.

Travelling by plane during the pandemic was a stressful ordeal for even the most seasoned jetsetters.

Beyond the fear of catching the virus itself when entering a public area (each errant cough enough to invite alarmed stares), permissions around entering and exiting countries changed rapidly.

National health authorities kept an updated list of countries that should not be visited, lest travellers expose themselves to infection.

And in a bid to keep out infected travellers, some nations essentially shuttered their borders.

For passengers, this meant that flights could be cancelled suddenly. Naturally, this led to a torrent of refund requests from airlines already struggling with a nosedive in demand.

Customers were often left waiting for months to receive their refund, unsure when it would reach them.

While airlines tended to process refunds in full at the start of the pandemic, the sheer volume of cancellations saw companies change tack – soon they began offering vouchers in lieu of cash.

Was this legal under EU law? The line was blurry enough that companies felt they were justified in their stance.

The situation became more opaque when online booking intermediaries were involved, with question marks over who was responsible for processing the refund. Customers reported a type of infuriating ping pong between the intermediaries and the operators.

And there was always the fear that companies, particularly travel agencies, would file for bankruptcy amid the travel crash, meaning the chances of recovering funds dropped to almost nil. 

Regulators in the European Union took notice, pledging to update the passengers’ rights framework and prevent a repeat of the refund chaos that took place in 2020 and 2021.

A plan was drawn up to strengthen passenger rights aspects that the pandemic had exposed as weak.

Tomorrow’s announcement is expected to include clearer refund rules, a standardisation of complaint forms, and stronger reporting obligations for airlines to authorities. 

Operators would also need to do a better job of informing passengers of what their rights are in a given situation – essentially, if a passenger is entitled to a hotel room, they should not end up sleeping in the airport due to a lack of awareness.

Multimodal cancellation rights are also expected to be included in the package. This means that if a train delay causes a passenger to miss their flight, for example, they would be entitled to compensation.

BEUC, a consumer rights group with knowledge of the upcoming package, praised aspects of the legislation but expressed regrets that it does not go further in some areas.

While the Commission had originally sought to include protections against insolvencies, it is now questionable whether this will be included.

It also looks unlikely that cancellation rights will extend to potentially dangerous destinations. If a government issues a warning to its citizens not to travel to another nation, such as for health reasons or the threat of terrorism or military conflict, passengers would have no redress if they cancel their flight.

BEUC has also called for greater automation of refunds, as well as more direct communication channels with operators.

Airlines and third-party ticketers are likely preparing their own reactions to the passenger mobility package as you read this – follow Euractiv for full coverage.

– Sean Goulding Carroll


Germany urges EU to promote bidirectional EV charging

Germany’s Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) invited on Monday business representatives and officials from neighbouring countries to discuss the future of bidirectional charging.

Bidirectional charging means that electric vehicles not only draw electricity from the grid in times of surplus (e.g. due to a lot of wind and sunshine) but also feed it back into the grid in times of shortage. With this, car owners could support the stability of the grid and benefit from electricity price differentials.

While some pilot projects already exist, a roll-out at scale is currently blocked by both technical and regulatory barriers. 

According to the German car industry association VDA, the taxes to be paid on the electricity used for charging provide an obstacle for a business case. 

“At present, ancillary electricity costs are incurred both when charging the EV for the purpose of intermediate storage and – after feeding back into the grid – for actual end consumption,” VDA president Hildegard Müller said in a statement.

Habeck’s ministry promised to work on a regulatory framework for bidirectional charging “so that taxes, levies and surcharges no longer represent an obstacle to the development of the business model”.

It also called upon the European Commission to develop a uniform European rulebook. “A standardised European set of instruments will be necessary to enable bidirectional charging and avoid grid or system overloads,” the ministry wrote in a statement.

On Wednesday (29 November), European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič will present an “action plan to facilitate grids roll-out”, a package which is expected to also address the issue of bidirectional charging.

– Jonathan Packroff


EU Parliament support for renewable fuel-powered trucks prompts controversy

Green campaigners have condemned the European Parliament’s proposed provisions for trucks running solely on renewable fuels, though the fuels industry insists the move is in line with Europe’s climate goals.

EU Parliament agrees stance on reducing truck CO2 emissions

The European Parliament finalised its position on CO2 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles on Tuesday (21 November), agreeing to slash the carbon footprint of new trucks whilst controversially permitting a new class of vehicles that run exclusively on renewable fuels.

When will Uncle Sam stop giving lessons to the EU on aviation?

The United States recently intervened to stop Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from restricting flight numbers, arguing it would unfairly affect US airlines. But rather than meddling in European affairs, the US should concentrate on its own aviation climate problem, argues Jo Dardenne of Transport & Environment.

Tesla takes legal action against Sweden over licence plate boycott

Tesla has decided to sue the Swedish Transport Administration and Postnord over the ongoing strike by IF Metall and other unions in Sweden, which has prevented the car giant from obtaining licence plates for its cars.

Greek shippers exit Russian oil trade to avoid US sanctions

Three major Greek shipping firms have stopped transporting Russian oil in recent weeks in order to avoid US sanctions now being imposed on some shipping firms carrying Russian oil, four traders told Reuters and shipping data showed.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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