Parliament floats more compensation for delayed air passengers

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Air passengers should be entitled to financial compensation after three hours of delay on intra-European flights, the transport committee of the European Parliament said in a debate yesterday (17 September).

A draft report by centre-right MEP Georges Bach (Luxembourg, European People's Party) on air passengers’ rights, presented yesterday in the transport committee, gathered broad support from the MEPs present.

The proposals focus on improving the existing legislation, which is considered “incomplete and unsatisfactory” for customers. Bach made a number of proposals aimed at strengthening air passengers’ rights and helping to raise customers’ awareness of their rights as passengers, who are too often afraid of engaging in lengthy and costly procedures.

“Today only 2% of passengers who are entitled to compensation actually claim it. They just back out, for fear of high legal costs", the rapporteur said during the debate.

Bach criticised details of the European Commission’s original proposal, saying it did not “deliver any great added value for passengers in comparison with the current situation”.

An example of this, he added, was the lengthening of the delay necessary for a passenger to claim compensation – from three hours to five hours on short flights, and from nine to 12 hours on long flights. This proposal was deemed unacceptable by the rapporteur, who suggested the delays be brought back to 3 and 9 respectively, backing this by making reference to a 2009 ruling of the European Court of Justice.

Passengers should also be entitled to €300 after 3 hours of delay, he added.

Other changes proposed in the draft report include a better definition of “extraordinary circumstances”. In other words, for an airline to refuse compensation, it should have faced extraordinary meteorological conditions – such as the 2010 Icelandic volcano eruption – and have done everything possible on a technical level to attempt flying. Only if these two conditions are met would a carrier be entitled to refuse compensation to customers.

The rapporteur also asked for more transparency on price clauses included in the terms and conditions of the companies' websites, better rules on hand luggage (including being able to take a shopping bag from the duty free or an umbrella, for example) and better rules on “no-shows”.

MEPs, who are known to be frequent flyers, showed broad support for the report during the debate, with the exception of the Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), whose shadow rapporteur, Jacqueline Foster, opposed shortening the time limitations for compensation, as well as the amendments on baggage policy, saying that safety rules should be defined by the companies themselves, not the Parliament.

But the current European legislation on air passengers’ rights has already shown its limits, as the European Court of Justice has issued 39 rulings on the matter since 2004 to clarify the legal texts.

MEP’s have until 3 October to introduce amendments. The transport committee will vote on the report on 14 November.

EU transport ministers will debate the issue on 10 October. The Parliament hopes to reach an agreement with the Council for the following Plenary Session.

The EU adopted in 2004 Regulation 261/2004 that establishes compensation right for airline passengers who are denied boarding or whose flights have been delayed or cancelled.

Compensation depends on factors such as the length of delay and duration of the flight.

This “Air Passenger Rights” law took effect in 2005 and was due for review in 2012 by the European Commission.

Both airline and consumer groups are pressuring the EU executive for changes, with the industry arguing that more flexibility is needed while consumer groups say laws should also ensure passengers against delays or cancellations caused by airline bankruptcies.

EU regulations cover other areas as well, including the rights of passengers with disabilities, loss or damage to baggage, and full disclosure of airlines flying routes – to address the increasing practice of ‘code-share’ arrangements where passengers may book through one airline and actually fly on another.

The rules face their most severe test during inclement weather and, in April 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland that caused flight cancellations and travel disruptions for days in much of Europe. The airline industry is pushing for early clarification of where exceptions are allowed in extreme situations, including times of widespread inclement weather.

  • 3 October: Deadline for amendments
  • 10 October: EU Transport Ministers to discuss air passengers' rights
  • 14 November: Vote on Georges Bach's report on air passengers' rights in Parliament plenary

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