But the proposal is not completely pro-passenger. As announced in Brussels by the European Union transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, it would also significantly roll back airlines’ obligations to passengers who wind up stranded for extended periods because of extraordinary events like the Icelandic volcano eruption three years ago that grounded more than 100,000 flights across Europe.
The proposal, which would require approval by a majority of the Union’s 27 member countries and the European Parliament, aims to address common airline practices that remain a regular source of frustration to travelers. Helen Kearns, a Commission spokeswoman, said that if adopted, the new rules probably would enter force before the end of 2015.
Eight years after the E.U. first introduced its far-reaching package of passenger rights legislation, the law is still not well understood by customers, which critics say leads to frequent abuses by airlines.
“It is very important that passenger rights do not just exist on paper,” Mr. Kallas said in a statement. “We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters most — when things go wrong.”
The European Union regulation applies to all carriers that take off from an airport in one of the Union’s member states, regardless of their nationality. The rules do not apply to non-European airlines on flights that originate outside the European Union.
Among the proposed changes is a rule obliging airlines to inform passengers about the nature of any flight disruption no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Passengers who are delayed by two hours or more would be entitled to care and assistance at the airport, including meals and refreshments, regardless of the distance of their flight. After five hours, passengers would have the right to renounce the flight and have their ticket price reimbursed.
In the event of a flight that has already boarded and is delayed by more than one hour on the tarmac, passengers would have the right to free drinking water, access to toilets and medical assistance. Should the tarmac delay extend to five hours, passengers would have the right to cancel their ticket and get off the plane.
The new proposal also clarifies the rights of passengers who miss a connecting flight because of a delay. Travelers would be entitled to care and assistance after two hours of waiting at their connecting airport and financial compensation if their arrival was delayed by more than five hours on any flight of less than 3,500 kilometers, or about 2,175 miles.
For flights of up to 6,000 kilometers, the right to compensation would kick in after nine hours, while for longer flights the deadline would be 12 hours.
Airlines would also be compelled to re-route passengers on another airline — or an alternative transport mode — if they are unable to find an alternate route on their own services within 12 hours of the original departure time.
Rules for handling passengers’ complaints would also be tightened. Airlines would be obliged to establish clear complaint procedures and systems and to acknowledge complaints within a week of receipt. A deadline of two months would be set for airlines to formally reply.
“Complaints about air travel amount to 80 percent within the transport sector, which shows the extent of the problem in Europe,” Monique Goyens, director general of the Brussels-based consumer organization BEUC, said in a statement. “We hope this prompts a much-needed upsurge in airlines’ respect for passenger rights.”
Airline groups also cautiously welcomed the proposal. Viktoria Vajnai, a spokeswoman for the Association of European Airlines, in Brussels, described it as “a step in the right direction” for both airlines and passengers.
“We believe that a comprehensive and coherent regulation will benefit not only passengers but the whole aviation industry,” Ms. Vajnai said.
Europe Seeks Update of Law on Fliers’ Rights – New York Times