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10th Dec 2023

New rights for passengers facing cancelled flights

  • Passengers in the EU to get higher compensation due to overbooking, and delayed or cancelled flights (Photo: European Commission)

New EU rules to boost passenger compensation from airlines are set to come into force on Thursday (17 February).

The legislation, adopted last February, will introduce new rights for passengers facing delays, denied boarding or cancellation of their flights.

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Unlike the previous measures, dating back to 1991, the new rules cover both scheduled and un-scheduled flights, including those sold as part of a package holiday.

The new rules also apply to flights from outside the EU to any of the member states, if provided by a European airline.

The European Commission argued that it would "dramatically reduce the frequency of denying boarding against a passenger's will", which has become common practice with the boom of air travel in Europe over the past years.

It is estimated that, each year, about a quarter of a million air passengers at EU airports face problems due to overbooking.

Red light for overbooking

Under the new rules, in cases of overbooking, airlines will have to first ask for volunteers already checked-in to give up their seats in return for agreed benefits.

Where not enough of them are interested, the pending passengers may be denied boarding but provided with financial compensation, based on the length of a flight - from 250 euro for under 1500km, up to 600 euro for over 3500km.

In addition, airlines must offer passengers the choice of a refund of their ticket or an alternative flight to continue their journey.

Penalties for cancelled flights and long delays

More compensation for passengers has been introduced in cases of cancelled and delayed flights.

Airlines should provide meals and refreshments and hotel accommodation if passengers need to stay overnight, plus reimbursement when a delay or a cancellation – whatever the cause - delays their customers for at least five hours.

When the reason for a cancellation is within the airlines’ control, passengers must be paid the same amount of compensation as agreed for the cases of denied boarding, unless they have been informed two weeks in advance or provided with alternative flights close to original timing.

Strong opposition from the airlines

The new rules sparked protests by airlines while it was being debated in Brussels last year.

Some challenged the law legally by asking the courts for a judicial review.

They argued that they could not be held responsible for delays and cancellations caused by bad weather, saturated air traffic, security demands or strikes.

"We estimate that this regulation will lead to about 1.5 billion euro of extra costs per year", said Andy Clarke from the European Regions Airline Association.

He suggested that all the passengers would ultimately foot the bill for the new measures, which are unclear and ambiguous, and do not take into consideration extra circumstances beyond the airlines’ control.

"We can’t prevent delays due to bad weather. There will be no fewer of them. The only thing to change is that we will transfer costs from those passengers whose flights have been disrupted to those without such experience. And that is not in majority of passengers’ interest".

The European air transport includes over 130 airlines. The demand for air travel in Europe increased three-fold between 1980 and 2000, and is expected to double by 2020.

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