Saudi Arabia Introduces New Passenger Rights

Saudia A330-300
Credit: Rob Finlayson

Saudi Arabia has introduced and strengthened air passengers’ consumer rights, with regulations coming into force Nov. 20.

IATA has expressed concern at the possible effects of the new regulations.

The regulations, which were initially announced in August, will apply to air journeys both within and departing from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regulator, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said the strengthened regulations “are designed to create a better travel experience, providing greater support at each stage of the passenger’s journey in the event of travel disruptions.”

GACA is also instigating a consumer education campaign entitled Putting Passengers First to make consumers aware of the new regulations and the importance of contacting their airline to use their rights in the event of a disruption.

If passengers do not receive an adequate response in seven days, they can ask GACA to investigate their complaint.

The new regulations encompass 30 new provisions that cover ticketing, boarding, inflight services, and baggage handling, as well as provisions for passengers with special needs, including those with reduced mobility.

Compensation provisions have been strengthened and extended. Recompense in some cases will increase to 150%-200% of the original ticket price, while compensation for lost baggage could be as much as SAR6,568 ($1,750).

IATA has expressed some concern about the move. Speaking at the Arab Air Carriers’ Organization annual meeting in Riyadh in October, IATA Director General Willie Walsh noted several Middle East governments were looking at passenger rights. Walsh cautioned them against going down a similar path as the European Union’s EU261 regulation, which has seen airlines being held liable for sums greatly exceeding the ticket price paid by passengers.
“We want them to understand the pitfalls,” he said, noting that best intentions could end up backfiring and cause damage to carriers, especially when delays or cancellations were arguably not airlines’ fault.

“We’re not fundamentally against compensation to passengers,” he said, but a series of judicial decisions in disputed cases in Europe had led to legal interpretations of the rules that had turned them “into something I don’t believe was ever intended by the regulators.
“Understand the mistakes made by Europe and understand the case of proportionality,” Walsh said.

GACA VP for quality and passenger experience Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Dahmash said the changes “reflect GACA’s focus on putting the passenger first, through regulations that create better choice, value, and service quality for passengers. By enabling a better travel experience, these regulations support the Kingdom’s broader Saudi Aviation Strategy growth agenda.”

GACA said that the new regulations are a key component in enabling the aviation sector’s Saudi Aviation Strategy targets, including tripling passenger numbers to 330 million per annum and connecting the Kingdom with more than 250 global destinations by 2030.

The Saudi Aviation Strategy aims to unlock $100 billion in private and government investment across the Kingdom’s airports, airlines, and aviation support services. By 2030, the strategy will extend Saudi Arabia’s connectivity from 99 to more than 250 destinations across 29 airports, triple annual passenger traffic to 330 million, establish two global long-haul connecting hubs, and increase air cargo capacity to 4.5 million tons.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.