EC drafts 'let me off plane' right

Updated: 

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.

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