Subject to approval by member states and the European Parliament, new regulations are set to be introduced in 2015 that, depending on your point of view, will either provide additional protection to passengers mistreated by airlines or further burden an historically loss-making industry with yet more onerous and unfair rules and regulations.
Under EU261, British Airways and other airlines are already required by law to refund passengers when their flights are cancelled; however, many travellers have complained that airlines have simply ignored this regulation or used a litany of excuses to avoid paying up. Some of the key features of the new regulations are as follows: airlines will no longer be able to cite ‘mechanical problems’ as a reason for denying compensation; airlines will have to provide an explanaton for flight cancellations within 30 minutes of its scheduled departure; where passengers have already boarded an aircraft and the flight is delayed for more than hour, the airline will be obliged to provide water as well as air conditioning / heating as appropriate; perhaps the most welcome regulation however is one that obliges airlines to acknowledge complaints within a week of receipt and to reply in full within 2 months - heaven knows how Ryanair will deal with that.
It’s not all bad news for the airline industry however. Airlines such as British Airways will quite rightly no longer have to pay compensation for delays or cancellations where caused by severe weather (definition?) or strikes; nor will airlines have to pay compensation for delayed flights until that delay reaches 5hrs, 2hrs more than the current limit; finally, in extreme circumstances (such as the Icelandic volcano of 2010 which cost the airline industry over £1 billion), airlines will only have to pay up to a maximum of 3 nights hotel for accommodation for stranded passengers.
Author Note: Having been stranded at Cancun airport in November 2010 after snow closed Gatwick, I can testify that British Airways handled the situation very well, providing and arranging (good quality) accommodation nearby as well as arranging new flights the following day. From experience, I can say that other European carriers would not have handled the situation anything like as well.