Brussels has ignored industry pleas for a delay and put forward its proposals on air passenger rights, promising a five-fold increase in compensation for involuntary denied boarding on long-haul flights. Carriers fear this will bring costly penalties for overbooked flights.

European airlines have long been critical of such proposals from the European Commission (EC), pointing out that with a significant number of no-shows on many city pairs, overbooking is necessary to ensure sufficient load factors.

Despite this, EC transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio has always made it clear that passenger rights was one of her top priorities.

Europe's airlines agreed a voluntary passenger rights charter in May last year based on a similar system operating in the USA. At the time, it was hoped that this would fend off the threat of legislation, but the EC says that it is not satisfied that the voluntary system has reduced overbooking.

"We have seen nothing," says Gilles Gantelet, spokesman for de Palacio. He says that complaints by passengers are still a huge proportion of the complaints from consumer associations. "Too many Europeans have a bad experience when checking in for their flight," Palacio says.

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) pleaded for a delay in introducing the proposals so that the industry would not be penalised at a time of crisis. Brussels argues that by the time the proposals have gone to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, there will be a delay of two years before the measures areimplemented.

The EC believes that the punitive measures will ensure that in most cases a voluntary system should suffice, whereby the airline agrees compensation with passengers. If this is not enough, compensation for involuntary denied boarding increases five-fold for flights over 3,500km (2,200 miles) to c1,500 ($1,300) while compensation for shorter-haul flights would be c750.

The proposals would also oblige airlines to provide meals, refreshments and accommodation for cancellations and long delays (where they are the fault of the carrier), as well as financial compensation. The rules are also extended to non-scheduled flights.

Source: Airline Business