Monday, 6 June 2005

EU flights of fancy

by Dom Corrigan

So, the tyranny that is the EU is taken a battering from the French, the Dutch, and other good people. I can't say I'm sorry to see it and might as well weigh in with a post or two on the subject. I can see it now: "The EU: My part in its downfall."

I like cheap flights. I don't find, in general, that I require continual feeding, and hence don't mind foregoing a meal on a short hop to Tuscany, France, Eastern Europe or wherever I might fancy going on a whim, or for meetings related to my present employ. I also don't mind having 10% less leg-space, when the fare is 60% lower than the equivalent fare on a flag carrier. Whatever you might think, for me, chavs, and anyone who needs value, having the choices offered by cheap carriers is wonderful. And not only for me, but for the places I can go to spend my Pounds Sterling, which will hopefully remain worth something long after the Euro has disappeared (18 months reckon some).

Ryanair et al are currently trying to overturn legislation requiring them to pay compensation to passengers who are delayed or have their flights cancelled altogether. This was passed, at least nominally, to deter airlines from the practice of over booking-flights. As far as I was aware, on the flag carriers, such compensation was commensurate with the cost of a fare. When I was (nearly) put on stand-by on a flight to Sri Lanka, I was offered all manner of inducements in cash and kind to fly the next day, which I felt were rather generous. Even on the one occasion I arrived at Stansted 2 minutes after the Easyjet check-in had closed, I was offered a free seat on the next available flight. I would not expect Ryanair to have to bung me around £170 of compensation if my £9 flight to Milan was delayed or cancelled. The consequences of such levels of compensation should be obvious, and benefit none of the parties involved - not me, not the airline, and not the citizens of the obscure destinations to which some flights depart.

It's also rather unfair. It seems to me that a huge proportion of delays must not be fault of the airline operator. Everything from bad weather to striking workers, to the closing of airspace, eg the Pope's funeral, will result in airlines working hard to minimise the inevitable delays for which they are not responsible. In the absense of powers regulating life and death, or the weather, the EU, as usual, picks on business.

Surely the only parties whom these new laws benefit are the flag carriers, which in some cases the relevent national governments hold a large stake. The game being played these national governments is to protect their carriers from competition by binding the cheaper carriers to expensive regulation.

Naturally the value carriers are aiming to overturn this legislation. They do so using two arguments. The first, laid out above, is that the potential costs of compensation are rather out of proportion to the fares paid by the passenger. The second is that this legislation could only be passed if two EU bodies, the Council and Parliament, agreed. These two bodies did not both agree that this was in everyone's interest. When disagreements occur, the whole shabang is meant to be kicked into long grass and enter a conciliation process, which should probably have involved greater consultation with the airline industry. In this case the already established rules were changed so that the regulations could be passed.

A disgrace and another example of the arrogance of these EU officials.

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