Brussels to Firm Up Rules on Air Passenger Refunds

The European Commission is considering upping the pressure on airlines to properly apply EU rules on compensation for air travellers in case of delays, but Brussels has also been told to correct its own misleading information leaflets for passengers.

EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot confirmed on Thursday (11 January) that his office is looking into ways of improving the implementation of EU passenger rights as he gets "a lot of mail" coming from upset travellers, AFP agency reported.

The air travel rules came into force last February with the commission pointing to the package as an example of concrete European projects aimed at improving the lives of EU citizens.

According to the legislation, airlines must refund passengers if the reason for a flight's cancellation or delay was "within their control," with compensation ranging from 250 euros to 600 euros, depending on the length of journey and delay.

But while the Association of European Airlines reports that a quarter of inbound and outbound flights at the EU's biggest airports are an average 40 minutes late, airlines find ways of avoiding paying out and the only option for travellers is expensive lawsuits.

Commissioner Barrot is currently waiting for a specialist report, due in March, to highlight the weak parts of the air travel legislation - he is then set to draw up some measures to better ensure its application.

The EU executive has hinted that it could also trigger disciplinary sanctions against those member states that have failed to implement the EU law.

Brussels glossy passenger leaflets misleading

Meanwhile, the commission itself has been criticised by EU ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros this week who sided with two European airlines in their protest against the content of passenger information materials published by Brussels.

Mr Diamandouros has called on the EU executive to "correct inaccurate and misleading information contained in leaflets, posters and a video presentation on air passenger rights."

One of the criticised statements reads: "If you are denied boarding or your flight is cancelled, the airline operating your flight must offer you financial compensation and assistance" - and the Ombudsman has pointed out "this sentence wrongly suggests that compensation has to be paid in every case where a flight is cancelled."

A commission spokesman earlier told EUobserver that the leaflets and posters - distributed in thousands at airports and other public places across Europe - were deliberately written as "jargon-free summary of the complicated legislation, to be as consumer-friendly as possible".

"It is clearly pointed out in the materials that they are not legally binding, and when issuing a legal file, citizens should consult the actual piece of law".

But he said that if the ombudsman recommended improvements, the commission would follow his advice.

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