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New European Rules for Bumps and Delays.

New European Rules for Bumps and Delays

Let us welcome new EU regulations that provide greater passenger rights and compensation for cancellations, delays and overbooking.

Delayed or canceled flights are every traveler's nightmare. You are waiting in limbo with this crowd at the gate while the airline drip-feeds disingenuous information on how long you'll be stuck there and why. Or you have been bumped off a flight for which you had a confirmed reservation.

Readers often ask, "What are my rights?" with a harrowing tale of being abandoned without recourse by an uncaring carrier.

They are tough questions. "We have to consider each case on its merits" is all too often the soul-deadening answer. And it's often down to how much you paid for the ticket, the color of your plastic or whether the law of averages has finally caught up with you.

Airlines already offer compensation for "bumping" (denied boarding because of overbooking) - up to [euro]400 in the European Union, up to $400 plus overnight expenses in the United States. Some people with time to spare volunteer to be bumped.

Raphael Pfeffer in Tel Aviv missed a connection in Zurich when his flight from Malaga, Spain, was delayed two hours. "What is an airline's obligation when this happens?" he asked me. In this case, Swiss Air paid for his overnight stay although it says it was "not obliged to do so." Richard Castle of Swiss Air said, "It is our policy to put passengers who miss a connection on the next available Swiss or code-share partner flight. If we're to blame for the delay, we might put them on any flight."

According to the European Commission, a quarter million air travelers in the EU are denied boarding from overbooking by airlines, cancellations or long flight delays.

So let us welcome new EU regulations that provide greater passenger rights and compensation for cancellations, delays and overbooking.

Since Feb. 17 2005, passengers who are bumped off a flight because it is overbooked or stranded after the flight is canceled can claim compensation of [euro]250, or about $330, for short flights, and up to [euro]600 for long flights, plus a refund for the cost of the ticket, two phone calls, faxes or e-mails, meals and refreshments and hotel accommodation. Passengers who are delayed are also entitled to meals, phone calls and refreshments, and if the delay is longer than five hours, they can get back their money as well as a free overnight stay. The rules cover passengers flying within the EU or from or to an EU airport on an EU carrier.

But every silver lining has a cloud. The airline industry has mounted a legal challenge to the EU rules. The International Air Transport Association and International Air Carrier Association claim that the new rules are misleading and will force airlines to compensate passengers for factors outside their control, such as weather and air traffic control.

IATA has taken its case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and expects a ruling in the next few months. A spokesman says, "This is muddled legislation, and EU regulators have endangered the consumer interest they seek to protect. We have no problem with denied boarding compensation."

My advice is: Do not hold your breath for quarter from the airlines and check the fine print in your travel insurance.

In good news for business travelers, Delta Air Lines announced that it would cut its most expensive fares and drop the Saturday-night stay-over rule for cheaper tickets, an idea that is spreading across the industry. But the Business Travel Coalition, analysts and rival airlines warn that such a radical restructuring of fares could cost the industry $32 billion in lost revenues in 2005 if every carrier followed suit.

Delta, America's third biggest carrier, is cutting some fares by as much as 50 percent in the United States and is eliminating many restrictions in an effort to woo business travelers and other last-minute ticket buyers. Delta says no fare will be higher than $499 one-way in coach class, or $599 one-way in first class.
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Publication:Airguide Online
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 30, 2006
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