Air passenger watchdog sees complaints fallAUC says airlines may be tackling complaints first

23 July 2008

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For the first time in six years the annual number of complaints made to an air passenger watchdog has fallen, it was revealed today.

But the Air Transport Users Council (AUC) said the dip could be due to it not getting involved due to better complaint-handling by airlines.

And the council added that some passengers had experienced difficulty complaining due to a European Commission regulation which requires certain complaints to be dealt with in the country where the flight disruption occurred.

Complaints

The AUC said that in the 12 months ending on March 31, it received 5,582 written complaints compared with 6,289 in the previous 12 months.

It also received 5,495 telephone complaints in the 12 months ending at the end of March - a drop on the 5,757 for the previous 12 month period.

The latest figures did - just - cover the catastrophic opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) on March 27.

Terminal 5

However, it could be possible that any complaints made to the council by passengers who had flights cancelled and whose bags went astray at T5 will show up more on the statistics for 2008/09 than in the today's figures.

The biggest single complaint issue last year was cancellations. In written complaints the second-biggest moan was delays, with mishandled baggage second in the list of telephone complaints.

Examples of complaints handled by the AUC included:

  • a couple was told that their flight was cancelled due to 'shortage of crew' amounted to 'extraordinary circumstances' and they were not entitled to compensation. The airline eventually agreed to pay up
  • a couple who finally got 400 euro compensation each after being unable to board as the airline had changed the type of aircraft shortly before the departure. They were originally offered a lesser sum as the airline said, incorrectly, they had volunteered to stand down
  • a couple who had paid £60 for pre-assigned seats did not get them and the airline refused to reimburse them unless boarding passes were produced. The AUC intervened and the £60 was refunded
  • a couple paid £180 for a taxi home after promised coach travel failed to arrive after many hours following the diversion to East Midlands Airport of a flight to Liverpool. The airline refused to pay for the taxi but did so after the AUC intervened.

Service

AUC chairman Tina Tietjen said: 'We were pleasantly surprised by the decrease in the numbers of complaints to the council last year compared to the previous year.

'We hope that this means passengers are experiencing a better service from airlines. But we think that it might have as much to do with passengers and airlines working better together to being able to resolve complaints without the need for our help.'

She added that the majority of complaints received continue to be about cancellations and delays under an EC regulation 261/2004. Under this regulation, passengers' complaints about a cancellation, delay or instance of denied boarding, are handled by a body in the country where the flight disruption occurred.

Barriers

She went on: 'We are uncomfortable with this complaints handling process because we have always prided ourselves in being available to help all UK air passengers, whatever the problem and wherever in the world they happened to be.

'Many UK passengers have told us that they have not been able to pursue their entitlements under the regulation as easily as they would have liked to, not least because of language barriers when dealing with a body elsewhere in the EU.

'We have already passed this feedback to the European Commission and we plan to do all we can to make the complaints handling process work better for passengers.'

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