Replacement ticketing could bankrupt European regionals

 - January 9, 2008, 4:56 AM

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) has complained that European Commission (EC) proposals to increase passenger compensation will threaten the survival of regional airlines. At a December 5 meeting in Brussels, European Union transport ministers backed EC plans for new denied-boarding and flight-cancellation compensation. The plan could force carriers to pay for replacement tickets to fly intercontinental travelers back to their home airport, even if only the regional portion of their trip is disrupted.

“Europe’s regional airlines, providing short flights to Europe’s regions at an average fare of E150 ($150), may be required to buy tickets to America or Asia costing E3,000 ($3,000) when flights to regional airports are unable to take off due to poor weather,” according to an ERA statement. “The obligation will force regional airlines to suspend services and to increase fares.”

The EC proposals would oblige carriers with overbooked flights to call for volunteers to surrender their seats in return for payment or benefits before forcibly denying boarding. Passengers then denied boarding would have to be compensated according to a sliding scale based on the length of the flight. For sectors of less than 1,500 km (810 nm), the amount would be E250 ($250). The compensation limits would be revised every four years.

In the event of flight cancellations, operators would have to offer passengers a seat on the next available flight or reimburse their fares. They will also have to provide refreshments, meals and hotel accommodation in the event of prolonged delays.

ERA director of air transport policy Andrew Clarke said EC officials have failed to evaluate the actual economic effect of their proposals. The association also complained that the Commission has failed to apply the same obligations to other modes of public transportation. Along with other air transport groups, ERA has supported a voluntary European Airline Passenger Service Commitment as an alternative to the new mandatory compensation limits.