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).
 
ICAO has developed, after consultation with States, the following Core Principles on Consumer Protection, which are designed as guidance for States and concerned industry stakeholders in dealing with consumer protection matters. Recognizing the dynamic nature of the air transport industry, the Core Principles will be a “living document”, which would be refined and improved from time to time in the process of their implementation, based on the experiences gained and feedback received. The adoption of these Core Principles are a significant step towards regulatory and operational convergence and compatibility in this area.
 
Pursuant to the recommendation of the Sixth Worldwide Air Transport Conference (ATConf/6), after consultation with Member States and as endorsed by the Council and the Assembly (A38), ICAO has developed a set of core principles on consumer protection
 
ICAO's Core Principles on Consumer Protection
 
 
The core principles are designed as guidance for Member States and concerned industry stakeholders dealing with consumer protection matters, and in response to the need for regulatory and operational convergence and compatibility. Recognizing the dynamic nature of the air transport industry, the core principles are a “living document”, which will be occasionally refined and improved throughout its implementation.
 
ICAO encourages all Member States and concerned industry stakeholders to give regard to and apply the ICAO core principles in policy-making, and in regulatory and operational practices.
 
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 (pdf) 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.
 
For the project proposal “iPLAN: Planning for Travel Disruptions” of the ICAO Voluntary Fund, please visit: http://www.icao.int/sustainability/Pages/TRAF.aspx
 

 

 

 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.