Thank God there is European Commission - at least, for what it has done and will continue to do for the protection of consumer rights! This is how I would summarize my take on the round table discussion with the Commissioner for consumer protection Meglena Kuneva who visited Riga on 4 December.
If you’re not sure whether I’m being sarcastic, I am not because:
1. The European Commission is planning to push for equal consumer rights in all the EU which means that all EU countries will have to set the same high standards in this field, enabling consumers in, say, Latvia, Portugal and Sweden enjoy the same rights. This is new because until now consumers in some member states are protected better than in others, due to the so-called minimum harmonization: EU laws encouraging the member states to set higher standards but not forcing member states to do so. The consumer contract directive will push for full harmonization in this field so the same high standards will have to be in place in all EU!
2. The Commission will also continue to carefully watch telecommunications and airlines to make sure that consumers are not being tricked by businesses and that the single market is more consumer-oriented. Here I must add that Bertold Flick, CEO and president of AirBaltic, who was also present in the discussion with the Commissioner, reacted in a defensive way, stressing that airlines are now perceived as the bad guys although they can’t do anything about traffic jams in air space or delayed and lost luggage. Replying to his comments, Commissioner announced that a new EU legislation on airlines should be expected in early 2008, being prepared in close cooperation with airlines and setting clear rules for consumer rights protection in this field.
3. I was also inspired by Commissioner’s views. She said that she would like to have “more market in the market” referring to a need for more competition which will result in better consumer protection. She also said that if consumers complain, that means, “the society is alive and kicking”. This to me seems something that particularly people of Latvia should hear because if consumers don’t complain, businesses have fewer incentives to provide better products and services.
Being “alive and kicking” and also a frequent flyer of AirBaltic, I would suggest European Commission to particularly look into two aspects of AirBaltic services:
a) price policy according to which the same ticket has different prices depending on the day of purchase, e.g. ticket Riga-Brussels-Riga for 27 November cost Ls 170 on Monday, Ls 203 on Tuesday and Ls 193 on Wednesday, so the consumer who purchased the ticket on Tuesday is a loser because he could have waited until Wednesday to save Ls 10, or the following weekend when usually the tickets are cheaper than on workdays.
b) consumer rights protection with regard to changed flight schedule, e.g. what compensation should the consumer be offered when he has made plans to travel on a set date, say 10 December, but AirBaltic changes the flight schedules (several times) and the person in the end has to fly on 11 December, giving the person one day less in the destination and erasing all holiday or business plans made on the assumption that the flight is on 10 December.
For the case that someone in Commissioner’s office reads this blog, there have been other complaints about AirBaltic written here that could be helpful in your work. Good luck and thank you!