Ombudsman Calls EU Advice to Airline Pasengers 'Misleading'

The European Union must change "inaccurate and misleading" advice it gives to airline passengers seeking compensation when their flights are canceled, delayed or overbooked, the EU's ombudsman said Wednesday.

Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros backed complaints of two airline associations about leaflets, posters and a video produced by the EU's executive commission to explain a passenger compensation package that came into force in 2005.

He said the information from the European Commission wrongly implied that compensation should be paid in every case where a flight is canceled, that compensation should be paid immediately and that passengers could expect cash payments when flights were delayed.

"The Commission should as soon as possible correct the inaccurate and misleading statements identified by the Ombudsman and present its apologies to the complainant," said a draft recommendation from Diamandouros' office in Strasbourg, France.

Under the compensation rules, airlines have to pay reimbursements of up to euro600 (US$780) to any passenger with a confirmed ticket who gets bumped off a flight.

Similar compensation must be offered if a flight is canceled. However, there are exceptions if more than two weeks' notice is given, if alternatives flights are offered or if cancellations are caused by "extraordinary circumstances" beyond airlines' control - such as strikes or security threats.

Diamandouros said the commission's advice failed to highlight those exceptions. He also complained that a commission information video says "immediate and automatic" compensation will be paid when flights are delayed.

In fact, the rules oblige airlines to serve snacks or full meals when flights are delayed between two and four hours. Delays over five hours entitle passengers to a refund and a hotel room if necessary.

The commission has until March 31 to reply to draft recommendation, after which the ombudsman will file his definitive recommendation.

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