Air passengers rights are to be significantly improved as part of a European Commission proposal to crack down on over-booking, cancellations and long delays. Spanish airlines yesterday criticised the move by Brussels, claiming that the proposal will cost them money, however, few air passengers were complaining. Albeit for coach strikes, fuel protests and industrial action by pilots, Palma alone is just one of the many airports to have witnessed long delays and flight cancellations over the past 12 months and the European Commission believes that the current situation is unfair for passengers. Roughly a quarter of a million air passengers every year get a nasty surprise when they check-in for their flights at European Union airports. Despite having a ticket and reserved seat on a flight, they are told by the operator that the flight has been overbooked and that they will have to take a later flight. Sound familiar? “Denied boarding” as it is called in Euro jargon, causes great inconvenience and costs travellers time. But apart from overbooking, Brussels wants to either clamp down or make airlines more accountable for cancellations made without warning and lengthy delays. here is legislation in place, but it is only applicable to scheduled flights, about half the market. The Commission intends to make the new draft applicable to all flights in the European Union. In the case of overbooking, operators will be obliged, instead of turning passengers away at check-in, to ask for volunteers who would be prepared to give up their seat and catch the next flight. Passengers being turned away will be entitled to compensation at four times the current level set in 1991, an incentive to encourage airlines to opt for the volunteer solution. What is more, victims of overbooking will be entitled to choose between an alternative flight as soon as possible and reimbursement of their ticket in case the delay has made their journey pointless. Passengers will also be entitled to full care, refreshments, meals accommodation etc, while waiting for the next flight. In the event of cancellations, the new regulations would require them to contact passengers before departure time and negotiate with them the conditions for surrendering their reservation. Passengers who can not be contacted would have the right to compensation. Cancellation victims will also be entitled to ticket reimbursement and care while awaiting a later flight. The Airlines Association however says that under the current climate, the European airline industry last year laid off 30'000 workers, the new regulations if introduced, will cost the airlines dearly. The association agrees that steps have to be taken to eradicate overbooking, but by increasing the cost to airlines, the regulations could force some airlines to increase ticket prices in a vicious circle. At the moment, in the event of overbooking, a passenger is entitled to 150 euros (25'000 pesetas) in compensation, if the flight is over 3.500 kilometres, the entitlement is double.

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