Air passenger rights revamp


 European Commission

Travel: Passengers would gain new rights, but airlines would sometimes provide less compensation, under a new European Commission plan.

The European Commission has proposed an overhaul of the EU’s eight year old air passenger bill of rights. The draft aims to clarify some existing rules, give new rights to consumers and in some cases limit airlines’ liabilities.

The landmark regulations--introduced in 2005--required carriers to offer cash compensation of up to €600, meals and accommodations for severely delayed flights. The rules cover flights that take off or land in the EU or are operated by EU-registered air carriers. But commission studies have found that half of passengers did not receive the required services and 20% of German passengers “did not receive a response from the air carrier” after filing complaints, Brussels said on Wednesday.

At a press conference European transport commissioner Siim Kallas (photo) said that under the new rules “everyone has the right to care--something to eat and drink--after two hours instead of four. If you are actually stuck on the plane--a tarmac delay--these rights to care still apply. And they have to take you back to the terminal after five hours.”

Kallas also said the commission is “strengthening the right to re-routing. If your carrier is not able to re-route you themselves within 12 hours, they must find another airline or put you on the train. And by the way, if you have not used the first half of a return ticket, our proposals give you a new right to use the return leg without penalty.”

The draft regulation for the first time provide a specific definition of what types of delays are considered “extraordinary circumstances” and thus do not require airlines to offer compensation. “Natural disasters or strikes by air traffic controllers should be seen as extraordinary, but technical problems identified during routine aircraft maintenance should not,” according to a commission fact sheet.

In case of eruption

Last month, the European Court of Justice in Kirchberg ruled that Ireland’s largest budget airline Ryanair was responsible for taking care of stranded passengers after the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption, which shut down much of northern European airspace for a week and disrupted the use of airspace for another month.

Under the commission’s proposal, “the provision of accommodation will be limited to three nights” in similar circumstances.

In addition Brussels would tell member states that when flights are disrupted “national law may not restrict the air carriers' right to seek compensation from responsible third parties,” which is not always the case today.

Last month the ECJ also said that passengers on connecting flights must be compensated if they reach their final destination three or more hours late, even if the original flight left on time. The commission’s proposed revisions would change the acceptable delay period to five hours for intra-EU flights and up to 12 hours for long-haul international journeys.

In addition, Brussels aims to restrict the often hefty fees--Ryanair charges up to €160 or £160 in the UK--that carriers require to fix incorrectly spelled passenger names. “Under the proposal, the passenger may request--free of charge--the correction of spelling mistakes in his name up to 48 hours before departure.”

New rights for mis-handled luggage, price transparency and a deadline for airlines to respond to complaints within three months were also put forward.

The new rules could go into effect in 2015, but first need approval by the European Parliament and the European council of transport ministers.