BRUSSELS (Sur in English) – Air travel in Europe is set to undergo a transformative change, especially for the millions who prefer to travel light with carry-on baggage. The European Parliament has passed a resolution that mandates airlines, particularly low-cost carriers, must stop charging passengers for their hand luggage.
This move is in line with the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions (PETI) which has emphasized the need to list hand luggage as an “indispensable item”.
Consequently, airlines can no longer impose charges on items that can be safely carried within the cabin without causing any security or space issues for fellow passengers.
The new regulation is the latest in a series of changes to air travel in Europe, which will soon include the need for travellers to be registered on the EU-wide Passenger Name Record (PNR) system.
It’s worth noting that the EU Court of Justice had already ruled that hand luggage should be free of charge back in 2014. However, airlines had largely ignored this directive, often imposing their own set of requirements on passengers.
In addition to the baggage regulations, airlines will now have to adhere to standardized weight and measurement criteria for luggage.
The decision to regulate the luggage market was deeply rooted in a series of events that unfolded in Spain in August.
The country’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs, after a thorough investigation, initiated proceedings against several ‘low-cost’ airlines that operated within its borders.
These airlines were under scrutiny for imposing charges on hand luggage that passengers carried in the cabin. While the Ministry did not disclose the names of all the airlines under investigation, it was hinted that these airlines collectively held a market share exceeding 30%.
Consumer association Facua revealed that complaints had been lodged against major players like Ryanair, Vueling, easyJet, and Volotea for such practices.
The Ministry’s concerns weren’t limited to just hand luggage charges. They also delved into the extra fees that these airlines often added for services traditionally incorporated in the ticket price. For instance, some airlines charged extra for reserving seats next to dependents.
The Ministry pointed out that by segregating these services and charging additional fees, these airlines could advertise highly competitive prices. However, the final amount paid by consumers often exceeded the initially advertised price.
This strategy gave these airlines an undue advantage on online search engines over competitors who bundled these services in their initial pricing.
The Airline Association (ALA) was swift in its response to these proceedings. They defended the airlines, arguing that such commercial strategies were perfectly legal and fell under a European regulation that allowed freedom in fare setting.
ALA emphasized that travellers were always informed about the flight’s cost upfront and had the liberty to select and pay for only the services they required.
However, the tension within the aviation sector was evident. The potential fines for these alleged irregularities ranged from 10,001 to 100,000 euros for serious violations and could escalate to a staggering one million euros for extremely serious infractions.
If the profits garnered from these practices surpassed these amounts, the fines could be as high as eight times the profit for very severe violations.
This entire episode was not isolated. It was a continuation of previous grievances, with Facua having filed a complaint against Vueling’s hand luggage charges in October 2021.
Even earlier, in 2018, the association had lodged a complaint with the State Agency for Aviation Safety and Competition against Ryanair and Wizzair.
Facua highlighted that these alleged violations contradicted the Air Navigation Act, which mandates that airlines must allow passengers to carry hand luggage in the cabin free of charge.
The only exceptions to this rule pertain to safety concerns, especially if the luggage’s weight or size could potentially compromise the aircraft’s safety parameters.
This new regulation aims to eliminate the varying rules set by individual airlines regarding what qualifies as hand luggage. Furthermore, the EU is urging airlines to be more transparent, especially when providing crucial information such as flight prices or timings.
Another significant development in the European aviation sector is the potential end of budget flights. France is spearheading an initiative to introduce a minimum price on flights within Europe. The primary objective is to mitigate the aviation industry’s contribution to climate change.
While countries like the Netherlands and Belgium have shown support for the idea, winning a broader consensus might be challenging. The proposed minimum ticket price could particularly impact the business model of airlines like Ryanair.
In conclusion, changes such as baggage regulation and airline passenger data registration signify a new era for passengers and airlines in Europe alike. While travellers can look forward to a more transparent and cost-effective flying experience, airlines will need to adapt and innovate to stay competitive in this evolving landscape.