Delayed or stranded air passengers would be likelier to win compensation, and airlines would get clear rules on how to deal with passenger complaints, under a draft law voted by Parliament at the first reading on Wednesday.
"Air passenger rights concern practically every citizen of the European Union. It's a David vs. Goliath story, as only 2% of passengers actually get compensation after filing a complaint against an airline. I believe that the text we have voted today strikes a reasonable balance between the airlines and the passenger rights. We improved consumer protection on the one hand while recognising the flexibility that this industry requires, on the other", said rapporteur Georges Bach (EPP, LU).
The draft revised rules would require air carriers to have contact persons at the airport to inform passengers about their rights and complaint procedures, assistance, reimbursement, and re-routing of flights. Passengers could lodge complaints with them, including ones about lost or damaged baggage.
When flights are delayed, information on rescheduled flights would have to be made available to passengers no later than 30 minutes after the initial departure time.
Passengers with a return ticket could not be prevented from boarding the return journey even if they did not take the outward one.
Passengers would have to be informed early in the booking process about baggage allowances. Hand-luggage allowances would be increased to include a coat, a handbag, and one bag of airport shopping.
Air carriers which fail to reply to a complaint within 2 months would be deemed to have accepted the passenger’s claims. Those citing “extraordinary circumstances” in which they need not pay compensation would have to give the passenger a full written explanation. The draft rules include an exhaustive list of such circumstances, which include bird strikes, political unrest and unforeseen labour disputes.
However, in long-lasting extraordinary circumstances, such as the 2010 ash cloud crisis, air carriers’ liability to pay for passenger accommodation would be limited to 5 nights.
To ensure that passengers are not stranded when an air carrier goes bankrupt, Parliament inserted requirements for carriers to have in place appropriate guarantee mechanisms, such as guarantee funds, or to take out insurance policies.
National authorities should be given sufficient powers to punish air carriers that infringe passenger rights and should assess their reports on how they help passengers to cope with flight delays and cancellations, say MEPs.
This vote constitutes the European Parliament’s first reading position. Under the co-decision procedure, the Council of Ministers may accept the Parliament’s position or adopt its own position, for further discussion with Parliament.
Procedure: Co-decision, first reading