Sweeping changes to airline passengers’ rights as part of a reform of EU aviation rules have been criticised by carriers.

Iata argued that many of the changes will be difficult for governments to enforce, add unnecessary costs and “incentivise behaviours by industry that will be ultimately detrimental to the interest of passengers”.

The European Commission’s proposals introduce “trigger” times for when a long delay becomes subject to financial compensation, described as a “positive” by Iata.

These are five hours for flights of less than 3,500km, nine hours for flights between 3,500 and 6,000 kms and 12 hours for longer flights.

The proposals also introduce the concept of time limitations for assistance to be provided in times of extraordinary circumstances such as the 2010 Icelandic ash cloud crisis.

But Iata highlighted three areas of concern to the revisions to consumer rights regulation known as EU261:

•       The Commission proposes special measures for connecting flights which puts the burden for compensation for delays on the operator of the first flight;

•       The proposals treat a diversion as if it were a cancellation, triggering significant compensation to passengers;

•       If a flight is cancelled and no further seats are available on its own services within 12 hours, the airline must consider re-routing on other airlines or modes of transport. There is no limit on cost or class of service.

Iata director general and chief executive Tony Tyler said: “Airlines will do all that they can to get a passenger to their destination. But the ticket price paid 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.

“Everybody is frustrated when travel plans are disrupted. And there is a legitimate role for governments to regulate protections for consumers.

“But to avoid unintended consequences, there needs to be a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
“And no regulation should penalise airlines or their customers for airline decisions made in the best interest of safety.

“While we recognise some progress in the Commission’s proposals, the overall package falls down in these important areas.

“EC 261 needs to be revised. But these proposals alone do not do the job for passengers nor for the industry.”

He added: “We had a great opportunity to improve a regulation that has been shown to be not fit for purpose.

“Despite the positive steps, the intended and unintended consequences of the Commission’s proposals will be to the detriment of both travelers and the airline industry.

“Airlines have every incentive to operate on schedule and deliver value for money service to their passengers.

“It’s the commercial reality of operating in a competitive service industry with very thin margins.

“The cost of delays and dissatisfied customers is something that every airline wants to avoid but that is not reflected in the proposed proscriptive regulation.”

Board of Airline Representatives in the UK chief executive Dale Keller said that new rights have been proposed “which are not according to the original intention of the legislation, to provide assistance and compensation to passengers for overbooked or commercially cancelled flights”.

He added: “We are extremely concerned about a number of distorting and disproportionate anomalies, including connecting flight proposals that potentially impact the consumers ability to transfer between airlines on a combined fare and ticket.

“We believe that EC261 is a clumsy and in many cases excessive regulation, placing an excessive burden on airlines operating from and within Europe at a time when the region is already struggling.

“The global competition amongst airlines drives high levels of consumer satisfaction that are a necessity for survival. The proposed amendments do not reflect the reality of the international airline sector in 2013.”