If we’re going to get away for a winter sun timeshare break, pretty much the only way of getting there is by air – it would take days to reach somewhere like Tenerife by train and boat! Once a luxury, flying has become as everyday as taking a bus, but it still remains one of the most stressful ways to travel.
So it’s interesting that the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) reports that the number of complaints it has received from UK consumers related to air travel is up by 36.8 per cent compared to the year before.
The consumer advice organisation handles numerous types of complaints in any given year, but it is those against airlines/flying that have seen one of the sharpest increases.
Andy Allen, UK ECC Director, says: “Our figures show that in 2014 passenger transport by air retained its 2013 spot as the most complained about sector for cross-border purchases by UK consumers. This is for what we call “assistance cases” (where consumers have tried to resolve their problems but attempts have failed because either the trader doesn’t respond or doesn’t agree). Consumers come to us for help and we ask the centre where the trader is based to contact the trader on behalf of the consumer.
The 36% growth mirrors a wider trend in 2014: there were more visits abroad by UK residents in 2014 than the previous year, with spending on those visits also rising. The number of people who fly who complained in 2014 was 287% higher than in 2012. Clearly consumers are more in need of our help than ever.
Common problems when UK consumers complain about flights can include flight delays, denied boarding or booking/ticket problems. Complaints about luggage transport are in a separate category.
For consumers, what they are entitled to in which circumstances can be confusing, even if they are insured for their travel. For example, an airline is exempt from the obligation to compensate passengers for flight delays caused by extraordinary circumstances (ash clouds or extreme weather, for example). However if there is a technical fault with the plane which keeps passengers on the ground for hours until it’s fixed, in that case airlines do have to pay out compensation.
Under Regulation 261/2004, an airline must provide care and assistance to passengers whose travel is disrupted/delayed, whatever the reason for the delay or flight cancellation. Passengers can ask to be reimbursed when they provide receipts for food and refreshments bought at the airport while delayed.
Complaints against airlines have been soaring in recent years, perhaps partly because consumers are more aware of their rights although alarmingly, complaints against other passengers is also a factor.
Problems related to excessive drinking and generally abusive behaviour are being reviewed as organisations such as IATA look at ways of dealing with incidents.
In fact, airlines could ban drunk passengers from flying with them for the rest of their lives if they cause an incident that endangers others on board.
Jet2, for example has said they will enforce this measure and other airlines could well follow.
Phil Ward, MD of Jet2 said recently that he would not let the “disruptive few” as he put it, spoil flights for families and holidaymakers.