27th Oct 2016

New EU passenger rules give airlines more time

  • EU source: 'Five hours gives the airlines the incentive to solve the problem' (Photo: andynash)

New EU passenger rights will allow airlines more time to repair or call in new aircraft before having to pay out compensation.

The rules, proposed by the European Commission on Wednesday (13 March), would extend the deadline from the current three hours to five hours for all intra-EU flights and short international flights of less than 3,500 km.

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“The evidence we have is that five hours gives the airlines the incentive to solve the problem,” said an EU source.

The EU official said the current three-hour threshold forces some airlines to cancel the flight altogether to avoid paying out the more costly fines.

“The aim is to get passengers where they want to be as quickly as possible while giving airlines the time they need to sort problems out,” EU transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, told reporters in Brussels.

For his part, the transport spokesperson of the Green group in the European parliament, Keith Taylor, in a statement on Wednesday said the commission’s proposal “is clearly a totally wrongheaded approach”.

Taylor says the commission is bowing into pressure by low-cost aircraft carriers to increase the delay compensation time.

He says the Brussels-executive needs to focus more on transparent information on rights for all passengers and on enforcement, instead.

A survey in Denmark by the Danish Consumer Council found that only between two to four percent of polled passengers entitled to financial compensation had received any money.

Meanwhile, airlines receive direct and indirect subsidies.

Tax exemptions from energy taxation and VAT saves the industry around €30 billion annually, says Taylor.

“Financial constraints can therefore be no excuse for failing to guarantee passenger rights,” he says.

In other new rules, stranded passengers, even under so-called "extraordinary circumstances" such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption in Iceland, will only have the right to a maximum three nights lodging.

The commission’s three-night accommodation limit would not apply to disabled people, unaccompanied children and pregnant women, however.

Under current rules, air carriers must provide refreshments, meals and accommodation for an indefinite period of time.

Eyjafjallajokull's combined extra cost to EU airlines was estimated at almost €1 billion in less than a week. The amount is roughly 1.5 times the cost for care and assistance in a regular year.

A similar scenario with no limitations could force some airlines into bankruptcy, says the commission.

New and reinforced rights

Meanwhile, other provisions in the proposals improve passenger rights.

The definition of extraordinary circumstances is refined to problems that occur outside the control of the airline.

This includes strikes by air traffic controllers and natural disasters but not technical problems identified during routine aircraft maintenance.

Passengers would have the right to renounce their travel after a five hour delay and have the ticket price reimbursed. If people are stuck on a plane at the airport for more than one hour, they must have free drinking water, toilet facilities, adequate heating and cooling.

Carriers will also now have to reroute a passenger if he will not arrive at his final destination within 12 hours of scheduled arrival time.

The delay is still too long for some.

The FIA, a consumer body that represents the interest of its 36 million members as motorists, public transport users, pedestrians and tourists, says the 12-hour delay “is an unnecessarily long time period for passengers to wait.”

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