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Airlines, governments fail to ensure air passenger rights, EU says

The European Commission said Wednesday that airlines and European Union governments must improve air passenger rights within six months or otherwise face legal action.

Airlines and national authorities have failed to enact EU rules to protect the rights of airline passengers, the commission said. Under the 2005 EU regulation, airlines are obliged to pay passengers left stranded at airports up to €600 ($800), depending on the flight's distance, if flights are cancelled or if travelers are victims of over-booking. The commission said that airlines often invoke extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather conditions to justify flight cancellations and thus escape paying compensation. However, some 70% of delays are caused by problems related to airlines and airports, the commission said. It also accused airlines of offering passengers a refund instead of giving them the required choice between a refund or a re-routing.

Low cost carriers were unwilling to organize costly re-routing through other airlines, the commission added. This practice left passengers stranded for days at regional airports with limited catering and accommodation facilities, the EU executive said. EU officials said that the commission would hold talks with airlines and national authorities in the next weeks to try and agree on minimum passenger rights. „If the final outcome remains unsatisfactory, the commission will initiate infringement procedures against member states,” they said. The officials said that the definition of delays was the most urgent concern as air carriers were declaring flight cancellations as 48-hour delays to avoid paying compensation.

Between February 2005 and September 2006, more than 18,000 passengers complained about delays, cancellations and denied boarding, the commission said, adding that only 14% of the complaints were resolved and settled. The commission said that airlines often do not inform passengers of their rights when flights are disrupted. Airlines are required to do so as passengers need the information to claim compensation. The EU rules cover passengers travelling on all domestic and international flights taking off from any airport in the 27-member bloc. Travelers flying into the EU from overseas can also claim their rights, as long as they are travelling on a European airline. (