Proposals from the European commission to improve airline passenger rights are widespread and subject to approval from member states
The European commission wants to clarify key aspects of the law “which have been a source of difficulty for passengers and air carriers alike” and has proposed a number of changes as a result. All are subject to approval by member states and the European parliament and, if passed, won’t become law until 2015. Here is a breakdown of what is on the cards.
Information on delayed or cancelled flights Airlines will be obliged to inform passengers as soon as possible that a flight has been delayed or cancelled – at present there are no requirements about how much information they must give and when.
Under the new rules, information must be given no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time. As soon as a new departure time is known that information must be passed on.
Extraordinary circumstances The term “extraordinary circumstances” is very important, as under those circumstances air carriers are not required to pay compensation to passengers. The commission concluded the term is not clearly defined in the current regulations.
Its proposal defines “extraordinary circumstances” as those which are “not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control”. It provides examples: natural disasters or strikes by air traffic controllers should be seen as extraordinary; technical problems identified during routine aircraft maintenance should not.
Long delays and runway delays Passengers’ rights to care and assistance will be activated following a two-hour delay, whatever the flight distance – currently they are not entitled to anything until they have been delayed for four hours, depending on the length of their flight.
However, the rules on how many hours passengers have to wait before they can claim compensation will become more complicated. Passengers can currently claim on delays from three hours, except in “extraordinary circumstances”. This will change to five hours for all intra-EU flights and short international flights of fewer than 3,500km. For the remaining international flights the deadline will be nine hours for flights of fewer than 6,000km and 12 hours for flights of more than 6,000km.
According to the commission, the aim is to “give the air carriers a reasonable time to solve the problem and encourage them to operate the flight, not just cancel it.”
Passengers stuck on flights already on the runway will be given a right to refreshments/meals and to get off the flight after five hours. Where the delay exceeds one hour they will be given access to air conditioning, use of toilets, medical assistance and drinking water.
Rerouting Currently, passengers may be stranded for a long time while waiting for rerouting with another flight belonging to the same carrier. The EU says that where the air carrier cannot ensure the rerouting within 12 hours on its own services, it must offer it with other air carriers or other transport modes where available.
Connecting flights The rights to assistance and to compensation where a passenger misses a connecting flight because their first flight was late are currently not clearly defined. The proposal clearly defines these rights as being the same as for passengers of any delayed flight (as outlined above).
Misspelt names Under the proposal the passenger may request – free of charge – the correction of spelling mistakes in their name up to 48 hours before departure.
No Show policy (partial use of ticket /return flights) Following complaints from passengers, this proposal establishes that a passenger may not be denied boarding on the return flight of their ticket on the grounds they did not take the outbound part of it.
Complaint handling Airlines will have to provide clear complaint-handling procedures such as a web form to fill in or an email address. They will also have to reply to passengers within given deadlines – one week for the acknowledgement of receipt and a formal reply within a deadline of two months.
Limit to assistance Under current rules, air carriers must provide refreshments, meals and accommodation for an indefinite period of time. Under the new proposals the provision of accommodation will be limited to three nights in exceptional circumstances. This does not apply to passengers with reduced mobility, persons accompanying them, unaccompanied children, pregnant women, or persons with specific medical needs.
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