The European Union has now completed the revision of the rules that define assistance to airline passengers in the event of denied boarding, delays and cancellations. According to IATA, the legislation misses its mark. "The spirit is more punitive than compensatory, and it will actually have a negative impact on consumer-friendly fares and global interline tickets," comments Giovanni Bisignani, IATA Director General and CEO.

"As it stands, the new rules will not necessarily provide efficient consumer protection and are potentially very damaging to the industry. Our industry is fully committed to assist and compensate its passengers, but these rules are exceedingly complex to implement, impractical and likely to cause confusion."

The vast scope of the regulation addresses both denied boarding situations where a few passengers are involved, as well as cancellations and delays where all passengers on a flight must be assisted. This completely changes the context, and the provisions of the regulation are likely to lead to conflicts at airports, posing problems between passengers, airline and airport staff.

The new rules fix financial compensation amounts that bear no relation to the ticket price. "This costly measure will inevitably force up fares and choke the reduced fare market, which is not in the consumer's interest," says Bisignani.

Another far-reaching stipulation requires the carrier to offer a choice of compensation options, including a return flight to the original point of departure. This effectively means that on a multiple-coupon ticket, a carrier experiencing a delay on one portion of the trip could be held responsible for the entire ticket. If airlines stop interlining to avoid this costly risk, the traveler will face repeated check-in, and baggage claim procedures at each stop and higher fares.

Bisignani concludes, "This legislation is not only impractical for the industry, but also particularly detrimental to the consumer's interest. We do not see any comparable restrictions being placed on other modes of transportation. Certain articles need to be revised if we are to ensure the passenger's best interest."