New EU flight rights unveiledNew regulations cover delays and cancellations

13 March 2013


Airline passengers will get new rights for delays, cancellations and other problems when new European Commission proposals come into force next year.

The measures, which still have to be approved by the European Parliament, will extend consumers' rights to assistance and compensation to rescheduled flights as well as those that are delayed or cancelled. Airlines will have to place passengers on alternative airlines if delays are longer than 12 hours.

The proposals will also ban airlines from charging for making corrections to misspelt names on tickets if the changes are made within 48 hours of booking, and they set out passengers' rights if they are stuck on a plane waiting to take off.

Delay and cancellation rights

Flight rights are set out in European Regulation 261, which these proposals are updating. You can check our consumer rights pages to find out your rights under the existing laws.

However, one of the problems with the existing laws has been ensuring that passengers are given what they are entitled to by airlines. For example, Which? found in 2010 that 44% of travellers were not offered support they were entitled to when their flight was delayed or cancelled.

The changes to the law aim to improve airlines' complaint handling procedures and strengthen enforcement, partly through the introduction of an out-of-court complaint handling body to resolve disputes. 

Assistance and compensation

The proposals make changes to when passengers qualify for assistance and compensation. For example, passengers are now entitled to compensation after a delay of three hours or more. The change will mean their entitlement starts after five, nine or 12 hours, depending on the distance to their destination. The Commission said it is proposing this change to give airlines more time to fix a problem and operate the flight rather than cancel the service.

The changes also introduce a cap on the length of time for which airlines must provide accommodation under extraordinary circumstances, such as the ash cloud of 2010. The requirement will be limited to three nights, unless the passenger has reduced mobility, is pregnant, has specific medical needs, or is an unaccompanied child. The change reflects airlines' concerns that the ash crisis put them under a disproportionate financial burden.

However, passengers will be entitled to meals and other assistance for delays of two hours or more. Previously the entitlement started at two, three, or four hours depending on the distance of the flight.

Airline luggage rules

The new rules also cover luggage, and require airlines to make their rules on cabin and hold bag allowances clear at the point of booking and at the airport. Musicians will have a right to take small instruments into the cabin.

Another new requirement is for larger airports to have a contingency plan for how passengers will be helped if there is serious disruption.

A Which? spokesperson said: "We welcome the European Commission's proposals to make the regulations on assistance and compensation for air passengers clearer but there must be a redoubling of efforts to ensure that airlines comply with the rules and give passengers what they are entitled to."

The proposals will now be debated by the European Parliament and can be amended. The final version is likely to be agreed before the next European Parliament elections in June 2014. It will then have to be incorporated into UK law.

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