The European Commission is proposing to reduce airlines’ compensation to passengers for flight delays.

The EC said today carriers should only be liable for compensation after a minimum five-hour delay for a short-haul flight and nine-12 hours for a long-haul delay, compared with the current three hours.

However, airline association Iata immediately expressed disappointment that the revisions do not go further.

A European Court recently confirmed passengers’ rights to claim compensation for delays other than in ‘extraordinary circumstances’, and the first delay-compensation claim in a UK court was upheld in January against Thomas Cook Airlines.

The EC said today’s announcement of revisions to Regulation 261 on air passengers rights would ensure “new and better rights to information, care and re-routing” and “better complaint procedures and enforcement measures”.

The proposals include rights to information on delayed or cancelled flights and on re-routing and connecting flights; new rights in relation to rescheduling and to mishandled baggage; and greater oversight of enforcement and complaint procedures.

However, the EC also proposes limits to the assistance and compensation passengers can expect.

Iata welcomed “some positive aspects to the review”, but said: “The package of proposed changes will still leave major deficiencies in the legislation.

“Many of the proposed changes will be difficult to enforce, add unnecessary costs and incentivise behaviour that will ultimately be detrimental to the interest of passengers.”

Iata director general Tony Tyler said: “On the positive side, the EC’s proposals introduce ‘trigger’ times for when a long delay becomes subject to compensation: five hours for flights of less than 3,500km, nine hours for 3,500-6,000km and 12 hours for longer flights.”

But he warned: “The unintended consequence of . . . special measures for connecting flights which put the complete burden for compensation for delays on the operator of the first flight . . . may be reluctance on the part of carriers in Europe to offer connections to long-haul destinations.

“Even if only a handful of passengers miss connections, the potential liability could be greater than the entire revenue from the flight.”

Tyler said the result could be “airlines making the decision to focus on point-to-point operations instead of providing global connectivity”.

Iata also noted the provision would be impossible to enforce for journeys with connecting flights to destinations outside the EU.

Tyler added: “The proposals treat a diversion as if it were a cancellation, triggering significant compensation to passengers. [Yet] nearly all diversions are made for safety reasons – mechanical issues or sick passengers being the most common.”

The association also criticised a proposal that, if a flight is cancelled and no further seats are available on a carrier’s own services within 12 hours, the airline must consider re-routing passengers with “no limit on cost or class of service”.

Tyler said: “The ticket price and the cost of re-routing should be related. If your Bic pen doesn’t work, you don’t expect to get a Mont Blanc as compensation.”