The European Commission has announced changes to air passenger rights which could make it harder to claim compensation for delays.
The EC says that it wants the point at which travellers can claim compensation, currently after three hours’ delay, to be raised to a minimum of five hours.
Package of reforms
This plan is part of a widespread package of reforms which, the Commission claimed, will ensure that passengers are less likely to be stranded at airports. They are likely to come into effect in 2014.
Transport commissioner Siim Kallas, from Estonia, said that the current three-hour limit for delay compensation did not give airlines sufficient time to put right issues such as mechanical failure.
This meant they were more likely simply to cancel flights rather than try to resolve any problems, which meant that passengers would face even greater difficulties in reaching their destinations.
‘Time to sort problems out’
Kallas said: "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 said the five-hour limit would apply to short-haul flights of up to 2,175 miles, roughly the distance from London to Egypt, for example.
A nine-hour delay limit would be imposed on flights between 2,175 miles and 3,730 miles, which would cover a UK flight to New York, while the on the longest trips, airlines would not be liable to pay compensation until 12 hours had passed.
But UK Green Party MEP Keith Taylor criticised the proposals.
He said: "There is a clear need to clarify EU rules on air passenger rights, notably to ensure the rights of consumers are not compromised.
"However, using this review to soften EU rules on air passenger rights is clearly a totally wrongheaded approach.
"Proposals to extend the acceptable time for delays, beyond which passengers are eligible for compensation, will not fly.
"Instead of kowtowing to the bullyboy tactics of low-cost carriers, the Commission should be seeking greater clarity and enforcement of the existing rules governing air passenger rights."
The Commission also wants airlines to be forced to put passengers on rival carriers’ flights if any delays exceed 12 hours.
And airlines will no longer be able to penalise customers by charging them to change a misspelled name on a ticket.
Carriers will have to provider passengers with clear details of their complaint-handling procedures, such as a website or email address to which correspondence can be directed.
The EC’s proposals must be approved by EU member states and the European Parliament before becoming law.