THE BLOG

European Parliament Strengthens the Rights of Air Passengers

11/02/2014 10:45 GMT | Updated 12/04/2014 10:59 BST

I know it doesn't feel like it but summer is round the corner, although I am writing this piece at 5pm in Kendal, where it is dark and rain is hitting the office windows. But again I promise you that summer really is on the way.

And every summer I will be contacted by constituents who have been left angry and upset by the lack of rights or recourse they have to airlines who have potentially ruined their holiday.

Ranging from the 2010 eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano to tropical storms or even civil strife, I have had emails from residents who have said that they are stuck, just sat in an airport, for days on end and not being told anything. Now, I'm not blaming the companies for these natural events but I am blaming them for how they treat their customers who are caught up in them.

I have pushed and pushed for action to protect customers on this issue for several years but governments have said 'we need a comprehensive deal' before anything can be done, but I hope now one is on the horizon.

A bill to strengthen the rights of air passengers in the European Union has won the backing of the European Parliament at its first reading. MEPs passed the bill to give travellers better rights to information, care and re-routing, when stuck at an airport.

The bill, which also boosts complaint procedures and enforcement measures, will be discussed again in June. Currently just 2% of passengers are compensated after filing a complaint against an airline. Among the measures proposed by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, are several new ones including, the right to information about a delayed or cancelled flight, 30 minutes after its scheduled departure, a complaint form common to the whole EU and the right of a passenger to have a spelling mistake in a name corrected free of charge.

More importantly the bill will include rerouting travellers with rival carriers if a flight is delayed for more than 12 hours. The rules also clarify what are considered exceptional circumstances for compensation. Every year growing numbers of people take to the skies to travel abroad, but far too often things can go wrong, with delays costing people not only time but hitting their wallets. That's why the EU is now acting to strengthen passenger rights, including a simplified compensation process and the right to carry more than one bag on-board.

The most welcome announcements, to me, are that you will be able to take several items on board instead of having to try and stuff them all into one bag (you are now allowed one bag of duty-free shopping, one handbag and a coat on top of your regular carry-on luggage).

Currently some airlines won't let you do that! The second is that assistance (food, drinks, accommodation when necessary) has to be provided free-of charge after two hours' delay even in "extraordinary circumstances"

None of this is unreasonable, its what carriers should have been doing for a long time...but it's welcome and sadly long overdue.

Another issue that's been raised with me is that when people are stranded, one of the first things they want to do is tell their loved ones. The cost of phoning home, sharing photos online or using GPS can still be prohibitively expensive. However after a long campaign by Lib Dem MEPs, the EU is set to phase out all roaming charges in Europe in the next year or two, including for using the internet when abroad.

These simple and welcome steps could help dozens of my constituents and thousands of people throughout Europe.