Consumer Protection

 
Consumer interests cover many issues, including air “passenger rights” price transparency and connectivity enhancement. Furthermore, the subject has many implications: at the government level is the need for, and nature of, regulatory action; at the industry level there are numerous competitive, cost and operational consequences as well as issues of self-regulation; and globally the subject raises questions of harmonization and, potentially, problems of extra-territoriality when legal regimes differ and are applied beyond territorial jurisdictions.
 
Along with the continuing liberalization of air transport regulation, the protection and improvement of airline passenger rights has gained greater importance, particularly but not exclusively in major markets. A significant number of States, in recent years, have adopted regulatory measures that address some of the issues such as denied boarding compensation; assistance to passengers in the event of delays and cancellation; price transparency; and access for disabled passengers. 
 
At the industry level, many airlines have adopted voluntary commitments (i.e. non-legally binding self-regulation) to clarify or improve their policies or practices with regard to certain customer services (such as fare offers, ticket refunds, denied boarding, flight delays and cancellations, baggage handling, response to complaints, and special passenger needs), often in response to public pressure and to avoid regulatory measures.
 
A summary of the airline and governmental responses to some of the more prominent consumer protection  issues is provided in Table A (pdf) (revised, November 2013). The summary includes relevant cross-references to certain liability regimes.
 
ICAO's work
ICAO has done considerable work in this field, including the development of guidance material in such areas as conditions of carriage, fare guarantee, baggage, tariff disclosure, denied boarding and code sharing. The ICAO Code of Conduct for the Regulation and Operation of Computer Reservation Systems (CRSs) covers the consumer protection aspects in the context of CRSs. This guidance can be found in Policy and Guidance Material on the Economic Regulation of International Air Transport (Doc 9587).
 
In accordance with the eleventh meeting of the ICAO air Transport Regulation Panel (ATRP/11), held in June 2012, ICAO has carried out a study on the effectiveness of consumer protection regulations.
 
Guidance material for air transport users has also been prepared to assist States in publishing or encouraging the publication of booklets intended to inform air passengers and shippers of their rights and obligations. Furthermore, Annex 9 to the Chicago Convention sets out standards and recommended practices for passenger facilitation designed to allow air transport passengers to proceed through airports with minimal delay and difficulty.
 
The issues identified above were also addressed by the sixth ICAO Worldwide Air Transport Conference (ATConf/6), held in March 2013, and also endorsed by the 38th Session of the Assembly in September 2013 (A38), and drew the following conclusions in respect of action by States and ICAO:
  1. ICAO should continue to monitor consumer protection developments and to play a leadership role in developing policy guidance, taking into account the interests of States, the industry, air travellers and other aviation stakeholders;
     
  2. ICAO should, in particular, develop, in the short term, a set of high-level non-binding non-prescriptive core principles on consumer protection which strike an appropriate balance between protection of consumers and industry competitiveness and which take into account the needs of States for flexibility, given different State social, political and economic characteristics; these core principles should be consistent with existing instruments, in particular the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, adopted in Montréal on 28 May 1999;
     
  3. ICAO should establish a dedicated ad hoc group drawn from existing bodies such as the Air Transport Regulation Panel (ATRP), including experts designated at ICAO’s invitation by States or regional bodies, with a view to facilitating the development of the core principles in an efficient and expedient manner;
     
  4. ICAO should continue to play a leadership role in consumer protection in air transport and should cooperate with other international organizations, including UNWTO, in areas of common interest with a view to, inter alia, avoiding duplication of efforts;
     
  5. States should foster the adoption and implementation of consumer protection measures aimed at increasing the connectivity provided by air transport; and
     
  6. ICAO should take necessary action, possibly through the involvement of adequate bodies such as the Aviation Security Panel (AVSECP) and the Facilitation Panel (FALP), for subsequent work on cost-benefit analysis related to air transport connectivity.

 

Notes
  1. In this regard, the following indicative list, together with airlines’ conditions of contract/carriage, could serve as a checklist of many of the consumer interest issues a State may wish to monitor: the availability of lower fares including fares on websites;
     
    • reservation, ticketing and refund rules;
    • advertisements;
    • airline’s commercial and operational conditions;
    • check-in procedures;
    • handling of and compensation for flight delays, cancellation and denied boarding;
    • baggage handling and liability;
    • operational performance disclosure such as on-time performance and complaints; and
    • assistance for disabled and special-needs passengers (i.e. people with reduced mobility).
       
  2. Interlining refers to transportation on more than one air carrier.