Complaints soar in year of record profit growth for budget airlines

By Claire Newbon,Andrew Johnson
Wednesday 08 January 2014 04:25
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A damning report will reveal that airline passenger complaints have soared this summer amid delays and cancellations and despite record profits and fat bonuses for executives.

The report, which is to be published later this month by the Air Transport Users' Council, will show an increase in complaints on the 1,500 it received last year. "We expect more people to complain this year than in 2001," said consumer affairs officer James Freemantle.

He said airlines routinely ignored a voluntary code of conduct which sets out compensation packages for delays; and they failed to point out terms and conditions to passengers who might expect too much from budget airlines.

EasyJet, the biggest budget airliner since its purchase of rival Go, has cancelled a total of 47 flights since July. Next week it will announce details of further cuts of between four and six flights a week. The carrier blames a new roster system that it openly describes as "rubbish". EasyJet is one of the few airlines to publish punctuality figures. In the last week of July only 69 per cent of its flights arrived on time, with 93 per cent arriving within one hour. The company has flown 60 per cent more passengers this year than last year and its 40 top executives are reportedly to be given bonuses worth three times their salaries for the successful Go takeover.

Its budget rival Ryanair has also seen its passenger numbers increase dramatically by 41 per cent this July compared to last year. It reported a 68 per cent rise in pre-tax profits.

Apart from rostering systems, delays have been blamed on a lack of margin for error in the budget carriers' turnaround times and teething problems at the new £623m air traffic control centre in Swanwick. This was to blame for 3,600 hours of delays in a single week at the end of July.

Many passenger complaints are about compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. Most budget carriers offer nothing. Ryanair is particularly robust in defence of this policy.

EasyJet offers a full refund if a delay is for more than four hours. Otherwise the most a passenger can expect is a cup of tea or a sandwich.

Mr Freemantle said the airlines that had signed a voluntary code were ignoring it or did not make their terms and conditions clear enough to passengers. "Airlines can have the attitude that they will ignore the code of conduct because it is not binding," he said. "And although some airlines make clear their compensation policy, they don't make it clear enough. Passengers often expect too much from budget airlines – the same kind of treatment they would get from a scheduled airline."

From next month new European rules will entitle passengers to up to €1,500 (£1,000) for cancellations or delays.

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