The European Commission has unveiled plans for an overhaul of air passengers’ rights, which it hopes will bring certainty and clarification.
Under the reforms, airlines that cancel flights will be obliged to book passengers on rival carriers if they cannot offer a replacement flight of their own within 12 hours.
The changes, which are due to come into force by early 2015, are the biggest reforms made to the EU aviation rules since they were introduced eight years ago.
The European Commission has said that the changes, which are subject to approval by EU member states and the European Parliament, will provide clarity to both passengers and airlines.
Another key change is the banning of airlines from charging a fee to change a misspelling of a name on a flight booking.
A number of airlines currently charge passengers to correct a misspelling, with Ryanair charging as much as £160 to correct a booking at the airport.
“We know that the real priority for stranded passengers is just to get home. So our focus is on information, care and effective rerouting,” said Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner.
Airlines will be obliged to provide a maximum of three nights’ accommodation for stranded passengers under the new rules, as well as provide information within half an hour of a flight being cancelled.
The changes also provide clarification on what constitutes “exceptional circumstances” – mechanical failures do not, while strikes and natural disasters do. In exceptional circumstances airlines will not be obliged to pay compensation, but will still have to provide information and accommodation.
The need for clarification on this stems from the Icelandic ash cloud in 2010, which led to confusion over how much responsibility airlines should have to stranded passengers.
Airlines have been accused of dragging their feet when it comes to upholding passenger rights, forcing them through the courts to get the compensation they are entitled to.
Under the new rules airlines will be required to acknowledge a passenger complaint within a week and respond within two months.
The EU hopes that the changes will stop airlines from challenging in the courts what is often ambiguous wording of the current rules.
“It is very important that passenger rights do not just exist on paper,” added Mr Kallas.
“We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most – when things go wrong.”Alex Francis