KLM has reignited the debate about EU airline compensation rules, following its decision to reimburse only 24 hours worth of hotel and meal expenses to passengers caught up in the volcanic ash cloud.
However the European Commission is mounting pressure on the Dutch carrier to compensate travellers for the entire duration of the time they were stranded. Officials in Brussels have sent the airline a formal warning saying it must comply with EU laws or face legal action.
KLM says it is restricting payments to ensure a quick resolution for the thousands of its customers that were caught up in the closure of much of Europe’s airspace for 18 days in April and May.
Under EU regulations, passengers are entitled to claim back reasonable expenses - on meals and accommodation - for the entire time their flight was delayed.
In some cases, passengers were held up for over a week and families built up bills of thousands of pounds.
A commission spokeswoman said: “EU passenger rights are there to protect consumers. And they are there to act as a safety net for passengers - even in very difficult circumstances like this.
“So there is no grey area for us in this regard and those EU rights must be respected.”
A KLM spokeswoman said: “The European Commission is still discussing the issue of compensation so, pending this, we decided to give our clients payment for one day and one night.”
The Civil Aviation Authority said it had contacted KLM to remind it of its responsibilities and said they would monitor the situation closely.
Many airlines have been staunchly critical of the rules, which they argue forces them to compensate even if the delays are beyond their control, and also set no limit on the amount of compensation they have to pay.
Experts argue that an airline can end up paying thousands in compensation to a passenger who has only paid £100 for a ticket, and that the rules were only designed for one-off cancellations, not the mass closure of airspace.
Ryanair initially said it would only pay expenses up to the value of the ticket passengers, although it made a U-turn following the threat of action by the EU.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is insisting that the European Commission re-examine compensation legislation.
Jean-Claude Baumgarten, WTTC, President & CEO, said: “While passengers should certainly be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses, the fallout of the volcanic ash cloud is unduly impacting an industry that is already subject to excessive regulation and taxation. This situation originated from force majeur and not as a result of mismanagement by airlines and tour operators. We believe it is time the EC recognise this and re-examine how the legislation is applied in such circumstances.”
“Tourism is being hit with a double whammy: the loss of business as planes were grounded and now the cost of reimbursing passengers. We cannot help but think tourism is being punished for circumstances not of its making,” he added.