KLM has become embroiled in a dispute with the European Commission over the Dutch carrier's apparent refusal to abide by passenger rights legislation and fully compensate customers affected by April's volcanic ash cloud crisis.

KLM has set a 24-hour limit on reimbursing meal and accommodation expenses incurred by passengers who were stranded by the week-long closure of European airspace in April.

A spokeswoman for the carrier says the reasoning behind the limit is that there has been "no decision yet" from European Union transport ministers, who are "still discussing the means of passenger compensation" related to the ash cloud.

"We didn't want passengers to wait for a decision so we said we would pay for one day and one night," says the spokeswoman.

But the EC is adamant that, by setting a limit on passenger compensation, KLM is in breach of Article 9 of the EU's passenger rights legislation, which obligates airlines to cover the costs of feeding and accommodating passengers affected by delayed or cancelled flights.

"The legislation is enforced, it's in place and it applies, whether or not there are exceptional circumstances - in this case the ash cloud," says an EC transport spokesman.

He adds that the EC "has been in close contact with the Dutch national enforcement body and KLM" on the issue of reimbursement of accommodation expenses "following complaints from passengers".

On 29 July, the EC asked the enforcement agency to detail the measures it planned to take to ensure that KLM fully reimbursed passengers affected by the ash cloud. The EC also wrote to KLM "reminding them of their obligation under passenger rights legislation...to care for stranded passengers".

The issue is now in the hands of the enforcement agency. "Ultimately, if nothing happens KLM could be taken to court," says the spokesman, adding that any legal action would be the enforcement body's responsibility, acting on specific complaints from passengers.

KLM's resistance to compensating ash cloud-affected passengers in full is "an exceptional case", according to the EC spokesman, who says that, while there were some issues with low-cost carriers "in the immediate aftermath" of the ash cloud, those issues were "resolved quickly".

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news