The Civil Aviation Authority has been forced to expand its assessment of how airlines handle customer complaints after critics blamed the agency for failing to tell consumer authorities about their plans.
In July, the CAA published a consultation paper proposing how to improve the current alternative dispute resolution system – a scheme used to ensure that passengers can resolve any disputes without taking airlines to court.
Normally, such a consultation would be made public and all stakeholders would be invited to formally respond to the plans so that they could challenge proposals they deem harmful.
But on this occasion, the CAA failed to notify airlines and airports of the proposed changes, along with consumer champions, individuals, and organizations, which it blamed for an “IT flaw.”
The CAA has started an investigation into the current system of alternative dispute resolution
A statement on its website reads: “ We were recently informed that due to an IT error, a small number of interested parties had not received an email alert about this consultation going live and therefore had not responded when the consultation closed .
Given the importance of this issue, the Civil Aviation Authority reopened the consultation for a six-week period starting Friday, October 9, 2020 to allow for further responses as we continue to improve ADR service for consumers. ”
Helen Dewdney, the Complaining cow and consumer champion, reported the matter to the CAA earlier this month, warning that the approach was “ flawed and blinkered. ”
“It’s almost like they don’t want to hear the changes and recommendations from the people who are best qualified to propose improvements, the passengers themselves,” she said.
The Ombudsman Association, a professional association for ombudsman schemes, also lagged behind on the list of parties notified by the CAA.
Donal Galligan, the association’s CEO, said: “There are numerous examples from different industries that what works best for both consumers and driving improvements in an industry is one mandatory ombudsman.
“It is time for the UK government to reflect its own approach to railways, energy and new housing and drive the creation of a single mandatory aviation ombudsman.”
This is not what the CAA is proposing.
Instead, it wants to include a new process for ‘complex and new’ customer complaints and disputes and a post-decision review process that could allow airlines to influence the way future cases are handled.
Consumer organization Which? has now expressed concern that the proposed changes would do little to address the weaknesses of the existing system.
Among these, it was highlighted that the current scheme implies unreasonably long waiting times for passengers going through a long and complicated litigation process, leaving too many people unable to complain at all.
Together with the OA, which one? also calls on the government to introduce a new aviation ombudsman scheme involving all airlines operating in the UK.
This would improve the passenger complaints process and should be part of the government’s upcoming aviation recovery plan, it said.
Currently, airlines are not even required to be a member of an ADR scheme.
Currently there is only one Ombudsman in the travel sector, namely the Rail Ombudsman
Rory Boland, editor of which one? Travel, said: ‘During the coronavirus crisis, passengers have seen their consumer rights torn apart by some airlines who have consistently violated the law – but they have found they have nowhere to turn for support.
This situation has only made it clear that the current complaints system is broken, and tinkering around the edges will not be enough to reform it and make it work for passengers.
“The government must ensure that passenger needs are at the heart of the aviation recovery plan, starting with the introduction of a mandatory unified airline ombudsman scheme, as the first step to restore confidence in the industry.”
The aviation industry has faced public backlash in recent months, after many airlines refused to refund flights canceled due to the pandemic.
Thousands of vacationers had to wait months and months to get their canceled trips back, while others had to make do with vouchers.
The CAA has also been criticized for not doing enough to hold airlines to account, despite a new chairman, Stephen Hillier, who took effect August 1, 2020.
This is Money contacted the CAA for comment saying this received a number of responses to the original consultation, including from key stakeholders such as Which?
After the initial closure of the consultation, it was noted that due to an IT error, a small number of stakeholders had not received an email alert that this consultation went live and therefore had not responded before the consultation was closed.
To enable stakeholders to respond to this important issue, it reopened the consultation for a six-week period starting Friday, October 9, 2020 and is now in direct contact with organizations and individuals to invite their responses, who will consider taken as it is to improve ADR service for consumers’
Ryanair outperforms CAA refund complaints
Ryanair is by far the most complained about airline, according to individual figures released recently by the CAA.
More than half of all 1,280 complaints received by the CAA about refunds due to cancellations related to Covid-19 involved Ryanair.
The airline received 642 complaints about Ryanair and the second most complained about airline, Air Transat, not even close, with only 120 complaints in total.
The CAA has collected the information on 74 airlines and recorded how many passengers have complained about cancellation refunds during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It found that Ryanair was one of the airlines that failed to deal with refund requests quickly enough. It said the airline had a significant backlog of refund requests, and refunds took 10 weeks or more.
In response, on July 3, Ryanair published a series of commitments on its website about timetables for processing cash refunds.
The budget airline confirmed that 90 percent of its backlog would be cleared by the end of July, with all reimbursement requests filed in April being processed by July 15, and most claims filed in May by the end of July.
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