food / travel

Air Passenger Rights Under Assault in Europe

Long flight delays have a price, but the airline industry is applying serious downward pressure on European regulators.

Frankfurt airport
Frankfurt airport
Bettina Seipp

BERLIN — Lobbying is usually a hidden job. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the airline lobby’s current involvement in reworking the European Airline Passengers’ Rights Law has remained out of sight.

But the airlines’ chief opponents, European Passengers Federation (EPF), want to start shining the spotlight on the process. The EPF, a group of national and regional passengers’ organizations across the continent, has gone on the offensive in Berlin with a long list of demands.

Since 2005, European Union regulation 261/2004 has overseen compensation claims from passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled. But in the meantime, the debt of airline companies has continued to climb (approaching 3.5 billion euros deeper in the hole every year), and they have come to Brussels for help.

The airlines are clearly having some success in convincing European lawmakers. Since last March, the EU Commission made several proposals for revisions to industry regulations, all of which the German government has thus far agreed to.

“The vast majority of the planned changes are to the detriment of passengers,” argues Josef Schneider, an EPF board member, noting in particular the regulation that compensates passengers for long delays.

Until now, passengers who are kept waiting for more than three hours have a right to compensation. The EU Commision wants to extend that to a five-hour minimum delay, noting that the span of three hours is usually too short to fly in spare parts or an extra aircraft, especially in cases of technical problems in an airport far from the airline’s hub.

The worst part

The EU Passengers’ Rights Laws also apply to long-distance flights that start or end inside the European Union, as long as the flight is operated by an EU airline. And the new regulations say that on flights longer than 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles), airlines will only be liable for damages to passengers if there is a delay of more than 12 hours. In other words, if a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to New York arrives 11 hours late, for example, that would be acceptable according to the EU’s planned changes.

According to Schneider, these extensions to acceptable delays means that “around 72 percent of the passengers who are eligible for compensation now will get nothing in the future.”

Robert Weist, an attorney specializing in airline passenger rights, warns that things could get worse. He says the proposed changes leave much more room for interpretation of circumstances when airlines are released from the obligation to compensate passengers. It used to be limited to events such as extreme weather, pilot strikes and airport closures due to security concerns, but now things like technical problems that arise during flight will also be a reason to release airlines from any obligation to compensate passengers for delays.

“This leads to the passengers carrying most of the risk in the case of a plane with a technical defect,” Weist says. “This is the opposite of the current regulation, which holds that technical problems, which might be a result of wear and tear and lead to a cancelation or delay, are the responsibility of the airline.”

Ronald Schmid, attorney and professor of air traffic law, also sees the airlines as the major beneficiaries of the new EU proposals, including the regulations of passenger rights when planes are stuck on the tarmac and not given permission to take off. The new regulation says that passengers would only have a right to withdraw from the flight if they are made to wait for more than five hours.

Short of that, suffering passengers will have to just wait it out.

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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