EC to force airlines to cover «fallout» call costs

Michael Carroll
03 May 2010

European airlines will have to pay for mobile calls and text messages sent by passengers stranded abroad when flights were grounded by the fallout from a volcano eruption in Iceland, the European Commission has ruled.

EC rules mean airlines must foot the bill for living costs incurred by passengers on cancelled flights, a stipulation that includes the cost of two phone calls, faxes or emails.

A commission spokeswoman told consumers would be able to claim mobile calls and text messages as part of the provision, but the EC won’t force telcos to rebate subscriber’s bills, despite the likelihood of higher costs caused by prolonged roaming.

“Mobile providers [were] not breaching contract, so there is no grounds for intervention,” the spokeswoman explained, pointing out that airlines had effectively failed to meet their contractual obligations when flights were canceled.

Few of the telcos we spoke to planned to offer customers rebates, and none had data covering the number of subscribers affected, or the increase in roaming revenues.

A Deutsche Telekom spokesman said it has no plans “to offer any rebates on mobile bills to subscribers that were trapped abroad during the recent flight ban.”

The story at British Telecom was similar, with a spokesman revealing the firm doesn’t “have any specific rebates or relief.” However, its customer service advisors had the discretion to make decisions on a customer-by-customer basis, he said.

Thousands of travelers were stranded when a cloud of volcanic ash grounded all flights in Europe for six days last month.

The ban boosted demand for teleconferencing facilities in the region.

A Tata Communications spokesman said it had “definitely seen a spike in usage,” of its Public Rooms, with similar uptake reported by BT, Cisco, and Skype during the period.

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