Hard to protect passengers without airlines on board

Passengers require not only information about their rights, but also accessible mechanisms by which they can secure these rights.
Passengers require not only information about their rights, but also accessible mechanisms by which they can secure these rights.PHOTO: ST FILE

Passenger protection matters.

While experts consider European legislation protecting airline passengers against delays and cancellations to be less relevant to Singapore, it is still worth noting the challenges the European authorities face in implementing it (Budget airline? Sure, but good basic service still a must; Jan 25).

Under European laws, airlines must compensate passengers up to 600 euros (S$928) for delays of four hours and more. Yet, after Swiss International Air Lines cancelled its LX176 flight from Zurich to Singapore on Jan 6 due to a mechanical fault, the airlines denied compensation claims despite its clear legal liability, citing the extraordinary circumstances clause.

Ill-informed passengers may accept this as true and abandon compensation claims. Savvy travellers, too, may face an uphill battle as airlines can simply refuse to pay up unless taken to court. Many passengers have neither the time nor the interest in a protracted legal dispute, and thus will drop the case. As a result, the airlines often win and passengers lose.

Passengers require not only information about their rights, but also accessible mechanisms by which they can secure these rights.

Compliance by airlines remains an issue.

Stronger enforcement is one solution. Hefty fines for violating the US Department of Transport's three-hour tarmac rule has led to widespread compliance by airlines.

Partnerships are another possible solution. There may be benefits in engaging airlines when shaping the regulatory environment.

By finding a reasonable mid-point between profit-making and passenger protection, it is hoped that more airlines will voluntarily comply.

Tommy K.S. Koh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2019, with the headline 'Hard to protect passengers without airlines on board'. Print Edition | Subscribe