|El-Al passengers waiting to board flight 370.(Photo by: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters)|
The Travel Adviser: Hit them where it hurts!
By MARK FELDMAN
New Knesset law will mandate compensation for travelers who experience flight delays and cancellations.
We will cross borders. We will cross borders for knowledge.
We will cross
borders to learn from other governments.
We will cross borders to finally
grasp the importance of consumer protection.
Be it Occupy Wall Street or
demonstrations in Tel Aviv, the bedraggled and befuddled consumer will finally
be able to have some legislation to help them when airlines cancel or postpone
No longer the domain of ‘force majeure,’ the Knesset passed a
bill last month – when it thought it was just hours away from dissolution –
requiring airlines to give passengers benefits if flights are delayed for over
two hours or canceled.
But first, let’s look what’s happening in the
As millions of Americans take to the skies for the opening of summer,
families in particular are encountering unprecedented hurdles with air travel
that could easily be eased if airlines truly focused on customer needs and kept
fees for seating, boarding and the like transparent. But since most airlines
fail to do so, families often face fees for seating that make it hard for
parents to sit with their children, or are even barred from
Just in time for the summer season, families traveling with
small children on United Airlines will no longer be able to board early. While
Continental Airlines did used to allow families to pre-board, the old United did
not, and now with the merger United Airlines has decided to make them board with
the other ticketed passengers.
Art Sackler, executive director of Open
Airlines for Airfare Transparency, asserts “What makes the behavior of the
airlines even more exasperating for families is the failure to provide airfares
on an “All-in” (fares, taxes and fee) basis upfront.
By US federal law,
airlines are not supposed to engage in “unfair” or “deceptive” behavior, but
withholding fees is certainly unfair and may be deceptive. But with upfront
disclosure of services, one-stop shopping with a travel agency or other travel
service provider, consumers could largely avoid such onerous circumstances. What
happens prior to a flight or as you’re boarding is magnified when your flight is
But finally here in Israel, a law has been passed that grants
protections to passengers.
The law that goes into effect mid-August
covers all airlines flying to, from and within Israel to any destination
worldwide. One of the legal advisers of the new legislation is David Sprecher, a
Jerusalem-based attorney known throughout Israel and Europe as an expert in
airline legislation and litigation.
The Knesset Finance Committee labored
many months, with the cooperation of the airline representatives, the Histadrut,
the Association of Israeli Travel Agents and enough lawyers to fill a small
classroom to come up with the law.
NEW CHANGES The law to date only
applied to European airlines on flights coming to or from Europe. This led to
the absurd reality that Israeli airlines and their passengers enjoyed no
protection for flights that originated in Israel. Furthermore, no coverage was
granted to domestic flight passengers.
The new law covers all airlines
that fly into or out of Israel to any destination whether domestic or
As you can imagine, the Israeli airlines lobbied furiously
to keep their exemption but were rebuffed.
Moreover, the law allows no
differential between charter flights and scheduled flights.
AND COMPENSATION The law adopted the European model of a clear delineation
between assistance and compensation. The assistance is given to all passengers
on flights delayed more than two hours and includes provision of meals, ways of
communications (phone calls, fax or text message) with third parties and systems
of rerouting in cases of flight cancellations or long delays.
there is now the option of receiving a cash refund for flights, rather than some
promissory note good for future travel; a practice which causes most recipients
to grind their teeth.
The law also sets down the different mechanisms
between airline companies and tourism organizers; eg. travel
REFUNDS The Knesset took notice that when the passenger is
entitled to a refund of his plane ticket, he is entitled to a full refund
including the flights that were not utilized.
It will soon be the
responsibility of the airline to give back all the money that was paid toward
the trip so that the entire policy of cancellation fees will not be
It has set out a strong timetable for the remittance to take
place, up to 45 days in the most extreme circumstances.
The Israeli law
goes further than the European legislation by introducing a fine up to NIS
10,000 if the refund is not received in time.
PACKAGED TOURS Another
challenge was the question on many consumer’s minds of the airline ticket price
when purchased as part of a package that covers both hotel and air. The solution
was quite elegant.
A compendium was created breaking down the exact
figure to be refunded based on such characteristics as flight type, class and
distances. This leaves no room for a tour organizer to “guesstimate” the cost of
TIME DELAYS The bulk of the compensation legislation deals
with delayed flights and an entire mechanism will be in place detailing the
exact amounts. However, the Israeli legislation also awards damages for flights
brought forward! If the time of your flight has been brought forward and you had
to cut short your time abroad or cancel an important business meeting to race to
the airport, you will be compensated.
My research has shown Israel is the
first country with such a clause.
It should be pointed out that an
aggrieved client can only sue in one country; if one elects to file suit in
Europe one cannot file suit in Israel. The main advantage thus should be the
calculation of compensation which will be paid out. The one drawback of the
Israeli legislature is to reach significant levels of compensation; the distance
of the flight is the first criteria rather than the price of the ticket. Example
a delay on a flight to Athens will result in far less compensation than a flight
to Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, the law is a momentous breakthrough in the
Israeli aviation law industry and there is little doubt it will have an
influence both in Europe and in the United States.
So next time you
question what exactly Knesset committees do, know that in this instance, they
made us proud.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For
questions & comments, email him at mark.feldman@ ziontours.co.il