Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA): There is still room for improvement in the consumer protection of travellers

The European Commission has adopted proposals to amend travel regulations. The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) supports the revision of the travel regulations and remedying any shortcomings identified. However, it has found room for improvement in the proposals.

The European Commission has introduced legislative proposals regarding consumer protection in the travel sector on 29 November 2023. Deficiencies were identified in the functioning of the regulations intended to protect passengers, inter alia, during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the bankruptcy of the travel group Thomas Cook in 2019.

The Commission aims to improve the enforcement of passenger rights in all modes of transport and provide consumers with better possibilities to file a complaint to the carrier and claim compensation for a cancelled trip. In its proposal to amend the regulations concerning the rights of passengers for each mode of transport, the Commission has also put forward new provisions on refund processes in situations where air passengers have purchased a flight ticket from an intermediary.

The Commission has also proposed a new Regulation on passenger rights in the context of multimodal journeys. The new instrument would protect passengers who combine at least two different modes of transport – such as a flight and a train– on the same journey.

In addition, the Commission has proposed amendments to the 2015 Package Travel Directive to improve the protection of consumers who bought a package when a crisis occurs and to clarify the obligations and responsibilities of organisers as well as consumer rights.

Travel regulations must be clear and consistent

The FCCA has highlighted in its feedback to the European Commission that the three proposals governing the travel industry must be as consistent as possible with one another.

For example, the definition of an intermediary used in the proposal to amend certain aspects of the Air Passenger Rights Regulation is unclear and inconsistent with the concept of an intermediary as understood in general contract law. The definition refers to concepts included in the Package Travel Directive that are unrelated to intermediary activities as such. Therefore, it should be replaced with the concept of a ticket vendor, which is used in the proposal for the Regulation on passenger rights in the context of multimodal journeys.

The FCCA welcomes the expansion of passenger rights to cover to multimodal journeys that combine different modes of transport. Currently, passengers who switch from one mode of transport to another during their journey are not protected when the journey is disrupted. For the new regulation to improve the position of passengers, it is crucial to ensure that ticket types combining different modes of transport, along with the rights and responsibilities associated with them, are clear the consistency of the regulation is maintained.

Filing for refund becomes easier

The FCCA supports the proposal to clarify refund processes in situations where a flight ticket has been booked through an intermediary. Passengers should retain the right to request a refund directly from the operating air carrier if the intermediary has not made the refund within the time frame outlined in the proposal.

Passengers should always be able to submit reimbursement and compensation requests to carriers and intermediaries by modern, accessible means, and via multi-channel methods. The proposed common form or digital means of communication (mobile apps and email) should not be accepted or pushed as the only means to make requests for compensation or reimbursement.

Packages and linked travel arrangements should be both included in the definition of a package

The Package Travel Directive includes separate definitions for packages and linked travel arrangements. The Commission has attempted to simplify these definitions in the proposal. However, the FCCA still considers them too complicated and unclear. In the FCCA´s view, consideration should be given to adopting a single definition of ‘package’, which should also cover the concepts of linked travel arrangements in their entirety. This would also mean that the organizers offering linked travel arrangements would also be subject to the same obligations as organizers selling package holidays. In this case, the interpretation problems with the two key definitions would also be removed.

When a consumer cancels a package travel contract, the organiser has the right to charge a cancellation fee. The FCCA is of the opinion that the grounds and amount of the cancellation fee need to be clarified and made more transparent.

In the event of a cancelled package holiday, under the proposed amendments concerning the Package Travel Directive, the organizers have the option to offer vouchers to consumers as an alternative to monetary reimbursement. The FCCA is of the opinion that vouchers must be protected against the organizer’s insolvency. There must be clear rules applied in situations where a consumer accepts a voucher. If the organizer does not obtain the consumer’s explicit and written consent to accept a voucher, or if the organiser does not fulfil its information duties, consumers should always retain a right to monetary reimbursement.

Effective enforcement requires a clear set of rules

The Commission’s proposal to amend the mode-specific regulations on passenger rights states that passenger rights are not always effectively enforced.

The FCCA considers the Commission’s view in this context to be one-sided as it overlooks the inherent ambiguities in the text of, for example, the Air Passenger Rights Regulation. In particular, the case-by-case approach required by the notion of extraordinary circumstances makes it nearly impossible to enforce passengers’ right to a standard compensation collectively when a flight is delayed or cancelled.

The best approach to improve the enforcement of passenger rights would be to clarify the passenger rights framework by waiving the case-by-case assessment of extraordinary circumstances in which the standard compensation does not need to be paid to passenger. Clear and fair legislation is conducive to compliance.

Read more:

The Commission’s press release on the updates made on 29 November 2023

FCCA´s feedback of the initiatives:

Travel – better protection for passengers and their rights, COM (2023) 753 final

Travel – better protection for passengers and their rights, COM (2023) 752 final

Package travel – review of EU rules, COM (2023) 905 final