On 16 July 2021, the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile (“ENAC”), reaffirmed the centrality of passengers' rights to travel safely by introducing a new provision which mandates all airlines operating in Italy to assign seats for minors and persons with disabilities or reduced mobility close to their parents and/or accompanying person at no additional cost.1
The provision2, which came into effect on 15 August 20213, requires all airlines to guarantee that children between the ages of 2 and 12 travelling with their parents or with at least one accompanying adult in the same class are assigned seats close to their parents or accompanying person, at no additional cost. Where this is not possible, the child must be seated in the same row of seats, or no more than one row of seats away from their parents or accompanying person.
A similar guarantee must be given for persons with disabilities or persons with reduced mobility who are assisted by an accompanying person. The provision also requires airlines to refund to passengers the sums paid as a supplement to the ticket price for the assignment of neighbouring seats.
As a result of this new provision, all airlines operating in Italy are required to modify and adapt their computer systems for reservation and seat assignment. Airlines which fail to comply with this new provision will be subject to penalties ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 euros. ENAC reported that it would be conducting checks to monitor compliance.4 ENAC also encouraged passengers to report any non-compliance with the provision or inefficiencies to them directly.5
On 17 August 2021, ENAC reported that its preliminary checks revealed that Ryanair had failed to upgrade its IT and operating systems to ensure that customers were not charged extra when booking seats next to minors or persons with disabilities. It was found that the budget carrier had simply modified a contractual provision (which was not easily understood by passengers)to allow passengers to refrain from paying or to obtain a refund of the surcharge at the end of a complex procedure. Due to its non-compliance with the provision, Ryanair was fined 35,000 euros by ENAC. In addition, the President of ENAC, Pierluigi Di Palma, said that ENAC was considering the possibility of filing a complaint on Ryanair's non-compliance to the Public Prosecutor's Office for the commencement of appropriate criminal court proceedings against Ryanair.6
On 20 August 2021, ENAC was reported to have commenced proceedings to fine three other budget carriers, easyJet, Wizz Air and Volotea, for non-compliance.7
In Malaysia, the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code 2016 (the “Code”) regulates airline service standards and consumer protection in Malaysia. The Code recognises that a person with disability is a person whose mobility is reduced when using transport due to any physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, or age, and whose situation needs special attention and adaption to the person's needs of the services made available to all passengers.8
The non-discrimination of persons with disability is provided for in Section 9 of the Code. An airline generally cannot refuse to accept a reservation for a flight from an aerodrome to which the Code applies or refuse to embark a person with disability at such an aerodrome, on the grounds of disability. The Code also sets out specific procedures and timelines for airlines when they receive notification that a disabled person requires assistance and obliges airlines to aid the person concerned on arrival or in transit at the aerodrome.
However, the current provisions of the Code do not impose a mandatory requirement on airlines to ensure that parents and/or accompanying person of children or persons with disabilities are able to sit next to or close to them during air travel. The Code also does not prohibit or even address the imposition of surcharges for reservation and selection of seats, which is a common practice among airlines especially low-cost carriers operating in Malaysia. The Code merely provides for an airline's full disclosure of air fares, including any surcharges, to consumers.9
The current provisions of the Code are inadequate in securing every passenger's right to travel safely, particularly those who are minors and persons with disability or reduced mobility. As safety during air travel should not come at a price, we urge Malaysian regulators such as the Malaysian Aviation Commission to consider implementing provisions similar to those implemented by ENAC for the benefit of all consumers of civil aviation.
1 Press release n. 43/2021 ENAC dated 17 July 2021.
2 Disposition of the General Manager GENDISP-DG-16/07 / 2021-0000063-P published on 17 July 2021.
3 Press release n. 48/2021 ENAC dated 6 August 2021.
4 Press release n. 51/2021 ENAC dated 16 August 2021.
6 Press release n. 52/2021 ENAC dated 17 August 2021.
7 Press release n. 54/2021 ENAC dated 20 August 2021.
8 Section 2 of the Code.
9 Section 3 of the Code.
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