EC drafts 'let me off plane' right

Delayed air passengers will have the right to pull the plug on their journey after five hours waiting on the tarmac under tougher rules proposed by the European Commission.

The ability to demand disembarkation as well as being fully reimbursed for the price of the ticket is among updated provisions to improve the lot of disrupted travellers.
Also new is a legal requirement on air carriers to provide information on airport delays or cancellations no more than 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time.

And if the plans are approved by EU transport ministers and MEPs, there will also be a new obligation on airlines to operate an efficient complaints procedure - including acknowledging receipt of the complaint within one week and providing a formal reply within two months.

EU officials say the failure to offer any response at all to written submissions from disgruntled passengers is one of the biggest complaints about the existing air traveller rights rules, introduced eight years ago.

Lack of speedy information is another, followed by reluctance on some occasions by carriers to offer immediate financial compensation, legally-required refreshments and accommodation where applicable.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said: "It is very important that passenger rights do not just exist on paper. We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most - when things go wrong.

"We know that the real priority for stranded passengers is just to get home. So our focus is on information, care and effective re-routing. The aim is to get passengers where they want to be as quickly as possible while giving the airlines the time they need to sort problems out."

The EC says the existing regime of passenger rights is "one of the resounding achievements of EU transport policy".

But a series of legal challenges by air carriers highlighted the need to clarify some of the rules and update others.

The five worst holiday disasters
See Gallery
EC drafts 'let me off plane' right

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.


More stories
Read Full Story