Friday, September 09, 2005

Denied justice

It was never going to be any different, but following the airlines' appeal to the European Court of Justice on the denied boarding regulations, they now have "denied justice" to add to their woes.

So far, it is not definitive, but yesterday the advocate general ruled that the regulations, which oblige airlines to pay compensation to passengers up to €600 flights when are delayed or cancelled, should stand.

Advocate General Leendert Geelhoed recommended the European Court of Justice dismiss the complaints brought by the International Air Transport Association and the European Low Fares Airline Association, a move that the airlines say will cost them hundreds of millions of euros. They had complained that the rules infringed international agreements, breached legal principles and gave unfair advantages to other forms of transport.

Geelhoed's opinion is not binding on the court, but final rulings follow the advocate general's recommendations in about 80 percent of cases. The ruling is expected to take several months. In a public statement, he declared that the rules were "proportionate to the inconvenience suffered by the passengers and therefore fair."

The International Air Transport Association estimates that new legislation will cost 600 million euros ($745 million) this year. Low cost airlines have been particularly critical, claiming the compensation is often much higher than the cost of their tickets.

Chillingly, Geelhoed rejected their claim of discrimination. "A decision by an airline to pursue a low-fares model should not result in them being privileged under the law," he said. "Rules on consumer protection must be of general application irrespective of the price paid for the ticket."

Thereby, in one fell swoop, Geelhoed is denying consumer choice - preventing travellers opting for cheap fares at the risk of occasional inconvenience – and, in the process, denying the airlines justice.

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