Passengers left stranded in airports by delays and cancellations are set to win new rights to food, water, compensation and fresh flights under a package of measures unveiled by the European Commission on Wednesday.
The EU passed flagship legislation on passenger rights eight years ago, but said though "very strong," the existing rights needed to be fleshed out and toughened up as travellers "can have difficulty claiming them and feel frustrated when air carriers do not appear to apply them".
Surveys in European Union nations show three out of four passengers are offered re-routing when facing delays or cancellations but only one out of two are offered meals or accommodation.
A German survey showed that when passengers complained, only 20 percent received a response, and a Danish poll said only two to four percent of people entitled to financial compensation actually received it.
"It's important that passenger rights don't just exist on paper," said EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. "We all need to be able to rely on them when it matters, at the airport, when things go wrong."
Among the proposed new rules, due to become law next year, carriers will have to inform passengers of any delay within 30 minutes, at the latest, of the scheduled departure time.
Airlines likewise will be forced to provide free water, air conditioning and access to toilets to travellers stuck in planes on tarmacs for at least an hour.
After five hours on the tarmac, passengers could disembark and be reimbursed while anyone left stranded for two hours in an airport hub would have a right to care and assistance.
And in the case of a delay of more than 12 hours, an airline would have to offer to reroute passengers on another carrier.
Turning to longstanding confusion over the responsibility of airlines to passengers -- a major issue during the Icelandic ash cloud panic in 2010 -- the new rules will clarify that carriers are not responsible in cases of "extraordinary circumstances", natural disasters or strikes by air traffic controllers.
Airlines meanwhile will have to provide clear complaint procedures and will have one week to acknowledge receipt of a complaint and two months to formally respond.