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Low-fare levies prompt call for rights rethink

European regulators are being urged to rewrite passenger rights legislation in the wake of new levies being imposed by low-cost airlines.

Ryanair is charging a €2 ($3) levy on all flights to cover possible compensation claims by passengers, which could earn it an additional €90 million in 2011. The Irish carrier is also increasing credit card fees, as is Easyjet, which is also charging a gate bag fee of £40 ($65).

Labour MEP Brian Simpson, chairman of the powerful European Parliament Transport Committee, is calling for "transparency and fairness for the consumer" and has urged EC transport commissioner Siim Kallas to review and strengthen the present air passenger rights legislation, by including a one-flight, one-price ruling.

"What I want to see is the price of the flight clearly stated on the first page," Simpson says, "with charges listed and described to tell the consumer what they are and why they are being levied, also on the first page."

UK consumer watchdog Which has also responded to passenger concerns by filing a super-complaint with the Office of Fair Trading, due to be reviewed at the end of June. Its ire is directed specifically at surcharges imposed for using a credit card, for which low-cost airlines are among the worst offenders, it says.

Ryanair justifies its compensation levy on the grounds that it suffered some €100 million of non-recoverable costs and €261 million of expenses from delays and cancellations during 2010. These were caused by the ash cloud airspace closure; snow-related airport shutdowns; and 21 days of air traffic control strikes. Ryanair says should costs decline this year, the levy will be reduced pro rata in 2012, but warns that if costs rise, so will the levy.

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