EU seeks better passenger rights to maintain competitive edge in world markets

BRUSSELS – The European Union is considering beefed up measures to help stranded passengers get compensation and find quicker ways to get home.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said Wednesday that a new package with improved measures would also boost carriers from the 27 member nations in global competition since consumers would be drawn to companies offering the best conditions.

“These rules only apply if you are on a European carrier. So my message is “Fly European,” Kallas told reporters.

Under the proposals, Kallas said that if carriers cannot reroute passengers themselves within 12 hours they must find another airline or other transportation.

Kallas’ proposals now will be taken up by the European parliament and the 27 member nations.

The airline industry gave the proposals a muted welcome.

The Association of European Airlines said it was “a step in the right direction” which should help clean up a complicated system currently in place that often leaves it unclear who is responsible for what.

“There have been so many court cases,” said Geert Sciot, spokesman for the AEA.

In January, the EU’s top court ruled that Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has to pay out compensation to passengers who were stranded due to the 2010 volcano eruption in Iceland, arguing that airlines have an obligation to provide care, even in such “extraordinary circumstances.”

With his proposal, Kallas said he wanted to clarify the rights of passengers and airlines on such issues as a natural disaster, rights to re-routing and connecting flights.

The European association of regional airlines ERA complained that making the first carrier in a multi-segment trip responsible for compensation if something went wrong would put too much pressure on their carriers, since they often are the first link.

The Geneva-based International Air Transport Association took issue with the 12-hour re-routing proposal, complaining it did not take into account the cost.

“The ticket price paid and the cost of re-routing should be related. If your Bic pen doesn’t work, you don’t expect to get a Mont Blanc as compensation,” said IATA CEO Tony Tyler.