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David Prosser: Flying into more trouble on airlines

Outlook Sooner or later, the European Commission is going to have to think again about the complicated and often draconian rules governing what airlines must do in the event of delays or cancellations of their flights. The airline industry has just been buoyed by a High Court victory, which will require the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to look again at new rules it effectively introduced last year, but the system is a mess.

This latest spat concerns the compensation airlines must pay if flights are delayed. Until last November, airlines had only to provide passengers affected by delays with assistance such as food and drink, and accommodation.

Then the ECJ stepped in and ruled compensation might have to be handed over, too. It is this judgment the High Court now wants the ECJ to look at once more.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the issue for a moment, this is getting very difficult to follow. Claims for compensation relating to UK airlines will now be mothballed while the ECJ rethinks, but the status quo will continue to apply throughout the rest of the European Union.

Remember, too, the ongoing saga of compensation for cancelled flights, with a backlog of claims still to be processed from the Icelandic volcano crisis. The airlines aren't too happy about those cases either, with large costs having accrued from an event over which they had no control.

Anyone who has ever suffered at the hands of an airline will have the utmost sympathy for the increasingly consumerist way in which European regulation of the sector has developed in recent times. But there is a limit to the potential liabilities that airlines should be expected to face (not least because their costs are passed back to customers).

What we need is a consistent approach across the EU and some recognition that airlines should not always pay the whole bill when people's travel plans go awry.