Saudi Air Passenger Rights (GACA)

As air travel has become an integral part of modern life, ensuring the rights and well-being of passengers has become a critical priority for governments and regulatory bodies worldwide. In Saudi Arabia, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the interests of air travelers through a comprehensive­ set of regulations and policies.

Understanding the GACA Customer Protection Regulations

The GACA, established in 1963, is the primary authority responsible for overseeing the aviation industry within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Its mandate extends beyond the mere regulation of air traffic and operations; it also encompasses the protection of passenger rights, fostering a safe and efficient travel experience for all.

The GACA Customer Protection Regulations apply to:

Flights departing from Saudi Arabian airports by both national and foreign carriers.
Flights arriving at Saudi Arabian airports by national carriers (unless the passenger receives compensation or assistance according to the regulations of the departure country).

One of the cornerstones of the GACA's efforts is the implementation of clear and comprehensive regulations governing various aspects of air travel. These regulations outline the rights and entitlements of passengers, providing a framework to address a wide range of scenarios that may arise during the course of a journey. Now let's have a detailed look at passengers' rights under GACA regulations.

Rights Regarding Denied Boarding

The GACA regulations provide specific protections for passengers who experience denied boarding. Air carriers must take active steps to minimize the number of passengers denied boarding whenever possible. Some key rights in this situation include:

  • No Denial for Higher Class Seat Availability: Carriers cannot deny boarding if seats are available in a higher class on the same flight. Passengers must be upgraded to the higher class free of charge.
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  • Volunteers With Compensation: Carriers may request volunteers willing to forfeit seats in exchange for compensation. However, involuntarily denied boarding is subject to further protections.
  • Exceptions: Compensation does not apply if passengers fail to comply with regulations such as check-in requirements or the carrier arranges comparable air travel within 6 hours of the scheduled departure time.

The table below summarizes passenger rights and carrier obligations in situations involving denied boarding:

Situation Carrier Obligation Passenger Right
Seat in higher class available Upgrade passenger free of charge Right to higher class seat
Alternate arrangements needed Provide flight/carrier options < 6 hours from original departure Terminate contract for reimbursement and 100% compensation
Volunteers accepted Offer compensation to volunteers Volunteers accept compensation offered
Rights Regarding Downgrading of Booked Class

The regulations distinguish between denying boarding and downgrading a passenger to a lower travel class than what was initially booked and confirmed. Downgrading is allowed under certain conditions if alternative seating is available:

  • Informing Passengers: Carriers must notify passengers of available seats in lower classes and obtain their agreement to downgrade.
  • Partial Refund and Compensation: If passengers agree to downgrade, carriers must provide a partial refund of the difference in fares between classes. 50% of this refunded amount is also given as compensation.
  • Right to Terminate: Passengers have the option to terminate the contract instead if downgraded. In this case, a full refund of the unused ticket price, along with 100% of that amount in compensation, is due.
  • Care Provisions Applied: Regardless of the option chosen, carriers must still fulfill care obligations for passengers as defined in Article 7, such as refreshments, meals, and accommodation for more extended disruptions.
  • Records of Downgrades: Carriers are required to keep detailed records of each downgrading incident for audit purposes by GACA's Customer Protection Department.
  • No Involuntary Downgrades: At no point are carriers permitted to involuntarily downgrade passengers without their agreement and provision of alternative options.

The table regulated downgrade procedures help ensure passengers understand their choices and that fair remedies are uniformly applied:

Situation Carrier Obligation Passenger Right
Downgrading proposed Inform passenger and obtain agreement Agree to downgrade or refuse
Passenger agrees to downgrade Provide partial fare refund + 50% compensation Receive compensation
Passenger refuses downgrade N/A Terminate contract for full refund + 100% compensation
Regardless of decision Fulfill care obligations under Article 7 Receive refreshments, meals, lodging if applicable
All downgrades Record details of each incident Downgrades properly documented
No involuntary downgrades N/A Not be downgraded without consent
Rights Regarding Flight Cancellations

The GACA regulations set a high standard for flight reliability, prohibiting cancellations except under force majeure circumstances. For permissible cancellations, extensive passenger rights and carrier obligations are defined as:

  • Advance Notice Requirements: For international flights, 14 days prior notice avoids care obligations, while 14 days to 24 hours requires alternate flight options to be given. Domestic flight notice is 7 days to 24 hours.
  • Late Cancellations: Within 24 hours, carriers must find flights within 6 hours of the original or allow termination. Care provisions like meals and lodging still apply until the departure of an alternate.
  • Alternate Flight Costs: Carriers must pay any fare differences incurred by passengers changing flights due to a cancellation.
  • Hotel and Transportation: If cancellations result in an extended overnight stay, carriers cover additional hotel and airport transfer costs for the disrupted duration.
  • Right to Claim Cancellation: Passengers can request a flight delayed over 6 hours be treated as cancelled, accessing stronger remedy rights.
  • Reimbursement and Compensation: Partial refunds and 50-100% compensation amounts on full ticket prices are set based on notice windows to incentivize reliable operations.

The penalty structure and emphasis on advanced notice or alternate options strengthen passenger autonomy while incentivizing on time performance from carriers. This robust set of protections for flight cancellations establishes Saudi passengers' rights as among the strongest globally.

Rights Regarding Flight Delays

Flight delays present another situation where passengers experience disrupted travel. Key rights defined for delays include:

  • Notice of Delays: Carriers must notify passengers of delays over 45 minutes at least 45 minutes before scheduled departure.

  • Hotel Stays for Delayed Connections: If hoteling passengers overnight due to delays, carriers cover additional required accommodation and meals.

  • Treatment of Lengthy Delays: Passengers can request carriers to handle delays over 6 hours as cancellations, activating stronger remedies.

  • Continued Care: For delays extending beyond a new estimated departure time by over 6 hours, carriers must continue providing refreshments, meals, and lodging as initially required.

  • On-Time Performance Incentives: Restricting delays to safety or security reasons avoids use as an excuse for scheduling issues.

To standardize passenger entitlements, timelines centering around 6 hours function as thresholds where stronger remedies take effect:

  • < 6 Hour Delay: Notification, Refreshments
  • 6-12 Hour Delay: Meals, Hotel (if overnight)
  • 12 Hour Delay: Treat as cancellation, Hotel + transportation, Reimbursement options

Overall, this balanced framework both supports passengers faced with delays while nudging carriers towards reliable flight departures to minimize disruption risks.

Rights of Special Needs Passengers

The GACA regulations place specific emphasis on protecting the rights of special needs passengers, who require additional considerations to complete their travel smoothly:

  • No Denied Boarding: Airlines cannot deny boarding to special needs passengers after issuing a confirmed reservation.
  • Meeting Needs at No Additional Cost: Airlines must ensure the specific needs of special needs passengers are met without extra charges. This includes:
    • Providing wheelchairs and clear guidance during boarding and departure.
    • Offering designated counters for special needs check-in.
    • Ensuring boarding and disembarking assistance is provided.
    • Taking necessary measures to notify special needs passengers about schedule changes, cancellations, or flight delays.
  • Care, Compensation, and Alternative Flights: Special needs passengers have the same rights to care, compensation, and alternative flights in cases of cancellation, delay, or rerouting as other passengers.
  • Enhanced Compensation: If a special needs passenger is denied boarding or downgraded, the entitled compensation increases to 200% of the original ticket price. The airline must also secure the earliest possible direct or indirect flight departing to the final destination in line with the original arrival time.
  • Disability Awareness Training: Carriers must implement training programs to promote respectful, considerate treatment of passengers with disabilities or medical requirements throughout the travel experience.

This enlightened section establishes Saudi Arabia as a leader in advocating for the fair, dignified air travel rights of persons requiring additional mobility or communication assistance. Carriers neglecting these responsibilities face severe penalties.

Rights Regarding Baggage Compensation

To establish uniform and fair standards, the regulations set minimum and maximum levels of compensation carriers must provide for mishandled baggage:

  • Standard Baggage Compensation: Between 350-1131 Special Drawing Rights for lost, damaged, or delayed checked bags per passenger.
  • Valuable Item Coverage: Passengers can extend liability limits by declaring high-value items in advance using carrier forms. The total declared value is then covered.
  • Delayed Baggage Payments: Carriers must compensate passengers up to 20 SDR per day domestic/40 SDR international, with per-passenger maximums of 100 and 200 SDR, respectively.
  • Excess / Additional Bags: Fees paid for extra bags entitle each one to independent compensation eligibility as its own piece.
  • Payment Deadline: Carriers have 30 days to process approved compensation for baggage issues from the claim submission date.

These requirements establish transparency regarding what passengers can expect carriers to cover in different situations involving missing, harmed or late-arriving luggage. It prevents arbitrary refusal of valid claims while encouraging declarations that better protect irreplaceable property.

The SDR-based structure also ensures compensation amounts automatically adjust over time-based on the reserve asset's valuation, keeping regulations optimally relevant.

Complaint Procedures

If you believe an airline has violated your rights under the GACA regulations, there's a process to register your complaint:

  1. First: Contact the Airline: Lodge a formal complaint with the airline directly to obtain a complaint reference number. This is crucial for any further action.
  2. Escalation to GACA: If unsatisfied with the airline's resolution, you can file a complaint with the Customer Protection Department of GACA within 60 days of the incident.
  3. Acknowledgement by Airline: If the airline fails to respond to your complaint forwarded by GACA within 15 days, it's considered an acknowledgment of the complaint's validity.
Refund and Compensation Procedures

The GACA outlines clear procedures for getting refunds or compensation to which you're entitled:

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    • Vouсher Terms: You саn exсhаnge vouсhers for саsh аt аny аirline offiсe.
    • Vouchers may be reused without any additional charges.
  • Transparency: Airlines must publish their refund and compensation policies for cancellations and baggage issues on their official websites and prominently in sales offices, subject to GACA approval.
  • Additional Damages: For any damages exceeding the compensation amounts outlined in the regulations, passengers can file a lawsuit with a competent court to determine the appropriate compensation amount.
Additional Provisions

The GACA regulations cover several other essential aspects of air passenger rights:

  • Force Majeure: Airlines are exempt from providing compensation in situations deemed force majeure (unforeseen events beyond their control). However, they must still offer:
    • Continuous updates and information regarding the situation for affected passengers are needed.
    • Appropriate care and support services during the disruption.
  • Technical or Operational Failures: Airlines cannot claim force majeure if disruptions are caused by technical failures, operational issues, scheduling errors, or negligence on their part.
  • Successive Carriage & Stopovers: Air travel involving multiple airlines under alliances or code-share agreements is considered a single, undivided flight. To ensure transparency:
    • Airlines must clearly inform passengers about such arrangements.
    • Airlines must explain all flight itinerary stopovers, regardless of whether the aircraft changes or not.
    • Airlines must clearly disclose the actual operating carrier for each flight sector and contracting carrier(s) at the point of sale.
Transparency and Advertising

The GACA regulations place strict obligations on airlines to maintain transparency and avoid misleading information in their advertising:

  • Clearly Disclosed Rights: Airlines must present passenger rights clearly and visibly on their website, sales offices, boarding counters, and baggage claim areas.
  • Truth in Advertising: Airlines must disclose all pricing, fees, and potential additional charges upfront to avoid misleading passengers.
  • Computer Reservation Systems (CRS): Airlines must make flight prices and options easily comparable through their use of computer reservation systems.
  • No Hidden Fees: Advertised prices are considered total – airlines cannot add extra charges later unless explicitly mentioned in their advertising materials.
Penalties for Non-Compliance

Airlines violating the GACA Customer Protection Regulations face substantial fines:

  • Penalty Amount: Fines may reach up to 50,000 Saudi Riyals for each violation of the regulations or instructions issued by GACA.
  • Customer Rights Paramount: These penalties are levied in addition to any compensation owed directly to passengers for disruptions and inconveniences caused by violations.
Additional Rights & Provisions

  • Pet Refusal: If an airline refuses to carry a pet with a confirmed ticket, they bear the cost of expenses incurred due to the cancellation and must pay compensation of up to 300 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).
  • Authority for Modification: The GACA Board of Directors possesses the authority to amend and update these regulations as needed.
  • Enforcement: The regulations became enforceable 90 days after their publication in the Official Gazette, superseding any previous regulations related to customer protection.
The Importance of Passenger Awareness

As an air passenger in Saudi Arabia, knowing your rights under the GACA regulations is crucial. This knowledge allows you to:

  • Understand airline obligations: Knowing what airlines should provide ensures you receive the services to which you're entitled.
  • Demand fair treatment: You can confidently demand fair treatment if airlines fall short of their responsibilities.
  • Navigate disruptions effectively: Understanding the procedures for denied boarding, cancellations, delays, and baggage issues will help you minimize disruption to your travel plans.

By staying informed and assertive about your rights as a passenger, you can travel with the assurance that the GACA has your best interests protected.