New EU laws protect air passengers' rights
BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union laws came into force Thursday to offer airline passengers better compensation if their flights are overbooked, canceled or subjected to long delays.
Consumer groups have backed the new rules, which the EU hopes will force airlines to improve the quality of service. However airlines say they'll be forced to push up ticket prices to cover the compensation claims and have threatened legal action.
Senior EU officials were heading out around Europe to explain the benefits to passengers. EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot was going to Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris to talk with passengers there.
The airlines will have to pay hefty reimbursements to any passenger with a confirmed ticket who gets bumped off a flight. The fines can reach euro600 (US$780) for long-haul flights, double the limit set in 1991.
In 2002, approximately 250,000 passengers in Europe were refused boarding due to overbooking.
Similar compensation will be offered if a flight is canceled and the airline is deemed responsible. That will not apply if more than two weeks' notice is given, or alternative flights are offered at the same time.
Delays of two to four hours will require airlines to serve snacks or full meals, while delays over five hours entitle passengers to a refund and a hotel room if necessary. Return flights must be offered if the journey is no longer necessary, for example if a business meeting is missed.
Airlines won't be held responsible if cancellations or delays are caused by "extraordinary circumstances" beyond their control ¡ª such as strikes or security threats.
The rules apply to all flights taking off from airports within the EU and flights into the 25-EU nations by European airlines.