Airlines are forced to double compensation for passengers

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The Independent Online

Compensation for stranded air travellers is to be doubled, after MEPs voted yesterday on laws designed to discourage airlines from deliberately over-booking their flights.

Maximum payouts of €600 (£410) were agreed for travellers "bumped off" planes and the new laws will apply not only to budget carriers but to charter flights. The legislation, which will have to be given approval by EU ministers, was passed despite fierce lobbying from low cost airlines such as Ryanair, led by Michael O'Leary, and easyJet which complain compensation will exceed the cost of most of their flights.

However the new laws failed to win any plaudits from the main European consumers' organisation who complained it did not go far enough. They said MEPs had watered down earlier proposals. The European Parliament voted down plans to offer automatic reimbursement for delays and to introduce "name and shame" performance scoreboards publicising airlines' records on delays, overbooking and lost luggage.

Although figures are hard to come by, as many as 1.1m people are thought to be denied boarding by airlines in Europe each year. Compensation for affected flights of 1,500km or less will be €250, with €400 for flights between 1500km and 3500km and €600 for longer flights to destinations outside the EU.

However the Parliament failed to back provisions that passengers facing "significant" departure delays must be given a choice between reimbursement or rerouting for long-delayed departures, providing these are not caused by adverse weather conditions or strikes. The Parliament voted to delete the right to refund or rerouting for delayed flights, requiring airlines only to offer assistance to passengers. That issue will now have to be resolved between the Parliament and national governments, the European Commission said last night. Those requirements would have kicked in on some flights after a delay of just two hours.

Package holiday flights are covered and there is no dispensation for the budget airlines to offer reduced compensation for denied boarding on cheap flights. That has infuriated Ryanair which says its average ticket price is €49, making the levels of compensation inappropriate.

"If I buy a television and it doesn't work, I can't take it back to the shop and get 10 times what I paid for it," said Paul Fitzsimmons, a spokesman for Ryanair. Easyjet argued the measures should also apply to ferries and trains.

David Henderson, a spokesman for the Association of European Airlines in Brussels added: "Any extra burden at this time is not good news for our industry." Mark Watts, Labour's transport spokesman in the European Parliament responded: "If the problem is not their fault they do not have to pay. Mostly it is a question of providing a cup of tea and a biscuit and the growth in aviation can support that. Some airlines do not want to treat their passengers with dignity and respect". There has being growing anger among consumers at the extent to which airlines have overbooked or cancelled flights for commercial reasons.

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman in the European Parliament Nick Clegg said the legislation, which could be in place next summer, "will mean all airlines will have to face up to their responsibilities to their passengers and play by a single set of rules". But the European Consumers' Organisation said the amounts proposed in compensation "will not be an incentive for airline companies to stop their unfair practices."

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