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New rights for air passengers

European Commission clarifies grey areas on delays, compensation and extra charges

AIR passengers will get new rights under European Commission proposals that clarify grey areas in the present compensation regulations – with anyone facing delays of more than 12 hours being offered seats on a rival airline.

The rules amount to a massive shake-up of passenger rights and commission vice-president Siim Kallas said: “It is very important passenger rights do not just exist on paper. We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most - when things go wrong.”

He added: “We know the real priority for stranded passengers is just to get home. So our focus is on information, care and effective rerouting. The aim is to get passengers where they want to be as quickly as possible while giving the airlines the time they need to sort problems out."

Key proposals include a clearer definition of “extraordinary circumstances” that allow airlines to avoid paying compensation for delays (ie: only natural disasters and air traffic control strikes – but not a mechanical failure); banning charges for changing a mis-spelled name on a booking; banning the practice of keeping passengers sitting on planes on the Tarmac without access to water or the toilet, and banning airlines from refusing a passenger on the return portion of a ticket if they have not used the outbound portion.

Passengers must also now be kept informed on what is happening if their flight is delayed. At present they are told their rights but now, within 30 minutes of their intended departure time, must be told if their flight faces a delay or cancellation.

They will also be given the right to “assistance” such as phone calls, food and drink etc if the flight is delayed by more than two hours, rather than the present system of different rules for different distances and flight times.

However, to encourage airlines to get the flight in the air rather than cancelling, the Commission proposes new time limits for compensation: five hours for flights of less than 3,500km, nine hours for other flights of less than 6,000km and 12 hours for flights of more than 6,000km. It said that the present three-hour did not give companies enough time to get spares or a replacement aircraft.

Airlines do get some benefits, with one significant change being a limit of three nights on the accommodation that an airline must pay for in the case of extended delays as during the ash cloud. Disabled passengers with reduced mobility, pregnant women or unaccompanied children are exempt.

If approved by the EU parliament and member states, the proposals will become law in 2015.
Photo: franz massard -

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