Brussels to Amend Airline Passengers’ Rights

Aircraft passengers will only be able to claim compensation from their airline if there is a delay of more than five hours, versus the three hours boundary which has been set up until now.

The European Commission presented a proposal this week which would set the threshold for entitling air passengers to seek compensation for delays, at five hours for domestic flights, flights within the EC or of a distance of less than 3,500 km. For all other flights, the threshold would remain set at 9 hours of delay if the journey is less than 6,000 km, and 12 hours delay if it is more than 6,000 km.

These new parameters will also be used as criteria for claiming compensation if a connecting flight is missed because of a delay in the first flight. Also, the maximum number of days that an airline must compensate a passenger for would be reduced to three days, compared to the indefinite period which is presently in force.

Brussels justifies this change by stating that “a three-hour limit is usually too little time for an airline to either provide a new aircraft or repair mechanical failures, especially when the fault occurs outside their base”.

The new rule proposed by the European Commission would also set a delay limit of at least five hours before a passenger would be able to cancel their flight and claim a refund of the ticket price from the airline. This right would also apply to passengers who have been waiting for more than five hours inside an aircraft.

The airlines will also have to inform passengers of the reason for the delay within half an hour at most after the scheduled departure, and must provide assistance (drinks and snacks) when the delay is expected to last more than two hours.

According to El Mundo, the proposal also sets out some changes in the rights of passengers with respect to any luggage lost by the airline. Under this new proposal, the value of the luggage may be declared at the check-in in order to oblige the airline to pay fair compensation in the case of loss or damage. It would also require airlines to allow small-sized musical instruments to be carried in the aircraft cabin.

The Commission also defines more precisely the concept of “exceptional circumstances” which allow a company to neither reimburse the price of the ticket nor assist passengers. Falling within this definition are uncommon or extreme weather conditions, or strikes outside the company, such as air traffic controllers.

However, strikes of airline employees or technical failures cannot be considered “extraordinary circumstances”.

At this stage this is only a proposal from the Commission and no changes will come into force until all member states have discussed the proposal and added any amendments if deemed necessary. However, Brussels believe the proposal could be approved within 18 months.