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European Regulations To Combat Overbooked Flights

16 October 2003


It’s the curse of the overbooked flight. More than a quarter of a million air travellers in Europe each year get a bad surprise at the check-in counter. They have bought a ticket and reserved a place but are then told they will have to take a later flight – their’s has been overbooked.

Denied boarding ruins holidays and causes passengers great inconvenience and loss of time. Equally annoying are cancellations without warning and delays that leave travellers stranded for hours at the airport.

Europe is the world’s most popular tourist destination and in response to airline customer dissatisfaction, the European Union has introduced new regulations that will give passengers effective, all-round protection.

First up, when faced with having to turn passengers away, airlines will be obliged to call for volunteers to surrender their seats in exchange for some advantages - striking a deal with passengers interested in giving up their seats. Only if insufficient volunteers came forward, would they be allowed to deny passengers boarding against their will.

Secondly, if after all airlines or tour operators do deny passengers boarding, they would have to pay compensation at a dissuasive level:
- € 250 for flights of less than 1500 km
- € 400 for intra-Community flights of more than 1500 km, and for outside flights of 1500 and 3500 km
- € 600 for all other flights.

This is designed to create a strong incentive for airline staff to make volunteering attractive, it will also be a powerful deterrent to denying passengers the right to board.

In addition to financial compensation, passengers denied boarding will have the right to choose between reimbursement of their ticket and an alternative flight, and meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation.

When airlines or tour operators cancel flights on their own volition, passengers will have the right to compensation at the rate fixed for denied boarding, unless:
- they are informed two weeks before the scheduled time of departure,
- they are informed on due time and re-routed at a time very close to that of their original flight.

In addition, in case of cancellations, passengers will receive three other rights:
- meals and refreshments.
- hotel accommodation, when a cancellation obliges a passenger to stay overnight.
- reimbursement, when a cancellation delays a passenger for at least five hours.

The new regulation will come into force at the beginning of next year. It will cover both scheduled and non-scheduled flights, and include air transport sold as part of a package holiday.

Loyola de Palacio, European Commission vice-president in charge of transport and energy, welcomed the agreement.

“Too many times, air passengers are victims of practices which deserve that they receive a fair treatment and proper compensation: today’s agreement paves the way for completing and strengthening the existing rights.” she said.


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