By Monitor l FOR almost a year now there have been notices posted in most European airports setting out passengers' rights when flights within the EU are delayed, cancelled or overbooked. These regulations were devised by the European Commission after years of consultation and should have come into force last February. However, passengers asking for their entitlement to an overnight stay in a hotel because of the non-arrival of their scheduled plane, or for between 250-600 euros compensation for being bumped off an overbooked flight, have found that the airlines were generally reluctant to comply with the new provisions. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) had jointly taken their complaint that the new rules were unfair and discriminatory to the European Court of Justice and, pending a decision, refused to pay up. Yesterday, in a surprisingly speedy decision, the Court dismissed the airlines' claim and said that the rules should be implemented. The European Commission said it was delighted while the airlines protested that they were being singled out among other forms of public transport and that the decision will cost them 600 million euros a year. The low cost carrriers, in particular, criticised the judgement for authorising compensation disproportionate to the low cost of their tickets. The complaints of IATA and ELFAA should not be dismissed out of hand. For example, they will have to pay compensation to passengers for delays caused, say, by a strike of air traffic controllers, over which they have no control. Perhaps the European Union should consider legislation enabling airlines to claim from the member country whose controllers go on strike. But the more general point is that the air-travelling public, which has had precious few rights since mass air travel began, will at last get decent treatment for inconvenience and discomfort. The airlines will threaten to put up prices but the keenness of competition these days should prevent too much of that. There remains one loophole in the EU's rules which airlines must be prevented from expoliting. If a flight is cancelled for “safety reasons” passengers have no right to compensation. This sensible provision must not be abused.


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