THE BLOG

Fight or Flight: Your New Weapons Against Airline Bullies

30/01/2014 12:19 GMT | Updated 31/03/2014 10:59 BST

Put the champagne on ice, because after a DECADE, you the passenger will finally have more power against airline bullies.

Airline operators would rather eat their own feet with rusty cutlery, than clearly inform passengers about their rights to compensation for delayed or cancelled flights.

That's why there's an eye-watering sum of approximately £500 MILLION each year in unclaimed compensation, because around 1 MILLION UK passengers are affected like this annually, but with many customers unaware of their rights, less than 5% of travellers claim, leaving this teetering mountain of money in the pockets of airlines. To put that into perspective, that's nearly £8 for for every person in the UK and around 121 times President Barack Obama's estimated net worth.

But in a major milestone for passengers, our European legislators have finally decided to amend the ten-year-old, ambiguous EC Regulation to give control back to passengers, by clearly listing what you can claim for and when, and fight against the scare tactics and vaguery which enables airlines to escape paying customers back what is owed.

Currently, all passengers denied boarding or with flights cancelled or delayed by three or more hours, can claim £250 for short flights up to 1500km; £400 for flights up to 3,500km and £600 for any distance over 3,500km in compensation, when airlines are to blame.

The existing legislation states that the compensation is payable unless the flight disruption happened as a result of "extraordinary circumstances" beyond the airline's control. But shockingly, it's almost impossible to find a clear definition of exactly what these circumstances are.

Since the existing EC Regulation has thoroughly let consumers down, by failing to explain exactly when airlines can use this "extraordinary circumstances" excuse, The European Court of Justice has provided some guidance:

Compensation is due any time the airline cannot blame outside elements, like the weather or industrial strikes. And in a majority of cases, it is also due if there are technical faults affecting aircraft operations.

However, airlines frequently and immorally employ intimidating scare tactics and take advantage of the ambiguous rights to compensation, whenever passengers rightly try to claim.

So the fact that these vague regulations are now due for a complete check-up after ten years in service, is an enormously exciting landmark for you, the passenger and those currently fighting stubborn airlines.

This Regulation (261/2004) has been on the EC Commission's mind for some time and an amendment will brought before EU Parliament at a plenary session early next month.

The EU Parliament has received the below, summarised proposal from its Transport Committee, which will give the existing air passenger rights situation the transparency it so desperately needs.

They will finally receive clarification in the minefield of "extraordinary circumstances" that airlines are hiding behind. And we will have a list of events affecting aircraft operations in which we can, or can't claim compensation.

Passengers will also benefit from strict rules on time limits in replying to compensation claims, so that cases do not work in the favour of airlines by dragging on for years. Airlines will be required to have proper and functioning contingency plans in place to minimise delays and rules will be in place for missed connecting flights on long journeys.

Travellers will also be entitled to refreshments and information from dedicated personnel after two-hour delays, whether "extraordinary circumstances" apply or not. They also propose to outlaw the abusive "one bag rule" which many, dominant airlines use to boost their own, in-flight sales by preventing passengers from taking airport purchases on-board, unless they fit into their cabin bag. Misspelled names on booking forms will no longer constitute a reason for charging passengers unreasonable amounts, as it will be regarded as an acceptable human error.

However, it is not all good news. The EU Parliament Transport Committee proposes to change time limits, currently standing at three hours. In the future, a delay of more than three hours on a flight with a distance up to 2,500km will be subject to compensation of £300 per passenger. A delay of more than five hours on flights in between 2,500km and 6,000km will be subject to £400. And any flight over 6,000km must be delayed by at least seven hours for a traveller to claim £600.

Despite the extension of time limits, the Committee is proposing a fresh playground for passengers to fight for their rights. The proposal has already received more than 600 amendments and is set for further pummelling and moulding before it reaches the shape that MEPs will eventually put before us.

But we are finally flying towards a bright, new destination for travellers, to reach the objective set out by Georges Bach MEP at the recent meeting in Brussels, of "put(ting) the passenger at the centre" and "strengthen(ing) his rights when it comes to application and implementation of the European laws."