Airlines will no longer be able to leave passengers in the dark about delays or cancellations under new consumer protection rules proposed by the European Commission. They will have to tell customers what is happening as soon as possible - and in any event no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time. And as soon as this information is made available they must provide information about the estimated new departure time. The rules on compensation for delays will also change. Currently airline have to fork out after three hours - but they can't often fly in spare parts or lay on an alternative aircraft that quickly, so they frequently cancel the flights altogether because that can cost them less than feeding delayed passengers and maybe paying for accommodation. Now the deadline for compensation will be five hours for intra-EU flights less than 3500kms. For other international flights it will be nine hours up to 6000kms and 12 hours on journeys longer than that. If they are stuck aboard an aircraft on the tarmac for an hour or more, customers will have the right to air conditioning, use of the toilets, medical assistance and drinking water. After five house they will be able to demand refreshments and food - or get off the plane if they want to abandon the flight. The proposal also clear up another area of confusion by stipulating that if the airline can't provide a seat on one of its own services with 12 hours, delayed passengers will have the right to switch to an alternative carrier (or carriers). It clarifies the compensation passengers can expect if they arrive late because the delay causes them to miss connecting flights. And it attempts to remove doubt over the "extraordinary" circumstances which airlines rely on to avoid paying out. Natural disasters such as the 2010 ash cloud from Iceland or an air traffic control strike will qualify. But technical problems discovered during routine aircraft maintenance will not. The new rules, which will apply to all airline flying in and out of the EU must be approved by the European Parliament. They are likely to come into force next year at the earliest.