Along with the continuing liberalization of air transport regulation, the protection, and improvement of airline passenger rights has gained greater importance.
A significant number of States, in recent years, have adopted regulatory measures concerning for instance access to air travel for passengers with reduced mobility, price transparency and obligation of the carrier toward passengers in case of flight disruption (flight cancellation, flight delay or denied boarding due to overbooking).
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.
ICAO has also done considerable work in the field of consumer protection.
First of all, the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (Montreal Convention) adopted by a diplomatic meeting of ICAO member states on 28 May 1999 contains some provisions granting rights to the passengers.
Please click here for the current status of parties to the Montreal Convention.
Moreover, ICAO also developed guidance material in such areas as conditions of carriage, fare guarantee, baggage, tariff disclosure, denied boarding and code sharing. This guidance can, among others, be found in the Policy and Guidance Material on the Economic Regulation of International Air Transport (Doc 9587).
In 2003, ICAO was already aware of the issue of consumer protection. Indeed, the Fifth Worldwide Air Transport Conference (Montréal, 24–28 March 2003) concluded that States should minimize differences in the content and application of regulations, with a view to avoiding legal uncertainty that could arise from the extra-territorial application of national laws. As recommended by ATConf/5, and in order to assist States, the Secretariat developed a summary of airline and governmental responses to some of the more prominent consumer protection issues.
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.
On the occasion of the Sixth Worldwide Air Transport Conference (Montréal, 18 to 22 March 2013), ICAO acknowledged the fact that more and more states were adopting regulations in the field of air passengers rights and that a coordinated approach was needed. Pursuant to the recommendation of this conference, and as endorsed by the Council and the Assembly (A38), ICAO has developed, after consultation with States, the Core Principles on Consumer Protection. These are designed as guidance for States and concerned industry stakeholders in dealing with consumer protection matters.
The Core Principles on Consumer Protection, are divided in three parts depending whether they should be implemented before, during or after the travel. 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. 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 is a significant step towards regulatory and operational convergence and compatibility in this area.
During its 39th session, the Assembly once again invited the Member States to adopt unified systems for the protection of traveler rights.
Finally, the project proposal "iPLAN: Planning for Travel Disruptions" of the ICAO Voluntary Fund can be found here.
To complement its guiding actions, ICAO keeps up to date a data base identifying and summarizing the different rules adopted by its member states in the field of consumer protection and particularly in the field of air passengers rights. Therefore, this database enables passengers to access information about their rights in case of flight disruption depending on the country where they fly. It also allows Member States and concerned industry stakeholders to be aware about the different rules implemented in the world in the field of consumer protection. This non-exhaustive database was developed with a view to provide easy and quick access to relevant information. Whenever possible, hyperlinks have been inserted as references. In certain cases, the material is only available in a language other than English.
A comprehensive summary of the different practices currently implemented in the Member States regarding aviation-specific consumer protection regulation and passenger assistance has been created in this working paper.
In December 2019, ICAO conducted a survey among its Member States on the assistance to passengers stipulated in their national legislations and observance of ICAO core principles on consumer protection. The analysis and report of the survey is available here.