Thursday, July 15, 2004

Not fair to low fares

One of the boldest and proudest claims of many Europhiles - not least the Independent – is that the liberalisation of “European” skies has led to the explosion of low cost air carriers, bringing cheap fares to the “citizens of Europe”.

But if the Europhiles regard this as one of the "benefits" of our membership of the EU, the low cost airlines themselves seem slightly less enamoured by the "project".

Yesterday, their association, the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA), in a hearing in the High Count in London, obtained a reference to the ECJ to challenge the EU's Regulation on Air Passenger Compensation (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, otherwise known as the "denied boarding" regulations.

These regulations are aimed – in standard "Euro-speak" - at "ensuring a high level of protection for passengers". They require carriers to pay compensation to passengers for delays and cancellations, once they have been checked-in. On short-haul flights, carriers must pay 250 euros. With longer flights, the sum can be up to 600 euros.

The High Court agreed with the 11 members of ELFAA members represented that the regulations, which come into force in February 2005, "would cause great damage to the European airline industry" and therefore requested the ECJ to deal with this case as a matter of urgency.

But what also irritates the airlines is that the legislation not only makes them pay when it is their fault but also holds them responsible for all long delays and cancellations outside of their control, such as when the air traffic system goes down. In all, they argue, the law is disproportionate.

The point, however, is that the compensation required could – and in many cases will – exceed the cost of the tickets issued by low cost airlines, which can be as low as 16 euros. Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, the net effect will be to drive up ticket prices, making low-cost fares a thing of the past.

That might be all right for the MEPs, who get their expenses paid, but for the millions of travellers who have benefited from low fares, they might have cause to resent the "high level of protection for passengers" the EU has so graciously afforded them.

But at least we will be spared the Europhile bleating about how they have brought low air fares to Europe.

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