Embargoed to 00:01 28 December 2016

CAA research shows passengers enjoy air travel, but the aviation industry must improve complaint handling

  • New research by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) shows the majority of consumers (89 per cent) are satisfied with air travel.
  • However, the research also shows that the aviation industry fares badly when things go wrong, with only 29* per cent of consumers 'satisfied' with how common problems are dealt with, such as flight delays, and shows a third (33* per cent) of complainants, 'not satisfied' with how their complaint was handled.
  • To encourage airlines to improve complaint handling, the CAA has approved a number of Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes, which means passengers can get an independent and legally binding resolution, where disputes occur.
  • However, while 27 airlines have signed up to ADR, the CAA is now urging the remaining 30 per cent of the UK's airline market to agree terms, and turn these complaint handling ratings around.
    New research by the CAA shows UK passengers are a pretty contented bunch when it comes to air travel, however when flights are delayed and complaints are handled poorly, things can quickly turn sour.

The CAA's consumer tracker survey, which questioned more than 7,000 people across 2016, has revealed 89* per cent of recent flyers were satisfied with their most recent air travel experience, reflecting their views on value for money, the quality of retail and restaurants available at airports, and their ease in finding their way to the gate.

However passengers' frustrations became apparent when asked about the quality of support and information they were given during travel disruption, which includes delays and cancellations, and for some, the problems appeared to get worse when they had raised a complaint.

In 2016 the CAA worked with UK and non-UK airlines to sign up to new Alternative Dispute Resolution services (see table), which aim to improve how complaints are handled and ensure passengers get a fair and timely resolution.

Now, with 27 airlines signed up to ADR, the CAA is urging the remaining airlines to get on board, improve their customer complaints service and make sure passengers' expectations are met.

Travel disruption findings

  • Less than a third (31* per cent) of those who experienced a delay of two hours of more were satisfied with how they were treated
  • Just 32* per cent were happy with the support provided when luggage was lost, stolen or damaged.
  • Only 18** per cent of those who encountered disruption were satisfied with the length of queues and crowding at UK airports.

Of those who complained

  • 37** per cent were dissatisfied with how well informed they were kept about their complaint.
  • 35** per cent were dissatisfied with how helpful and friendly the people dealing with their complaint were.
  • 34** per cent were dissatisfied with any redress offered as a result of their complaint.
  • 31** per cent were dissatisfied with how fairly they were treated.

Airlines signed up to Alternative Dispute Resolution services (UK airlines in bold)

Air Astana Czech Airlines Scandinavian Airlines SAS
Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge easyJet SkyWorks Airlines AG
Air China EgyptAir South African Airways
Air India Eurowings Swiss
Arik Air Flybe TAP Portugal (Transportes Aereos Portugeses S.A.)
Asiana Airlines Germania Thomas Cook
Austrian Airlines Germanwings Thomson (TUI)
British Airways Lufthansa Turkish Airlines
Brussels Airlines Ryanair Wizz Air

Crucially, the CAA's survey found that consumer satisfaction levels increase significantly when customers escalate their complaint to a third party, which may include an ADR.

Only 29** per cent of those who did not escalate to another organisation were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, compared to 49** per cent of those who did escalate.

The CAA believes this evidence shows the value of Alternative Dispute Resolution to consumers.

CAA's Policy Director Tim Johnson said: “The consumer tracker survey helps inform our ongoing work to protect UK consumers, ensuring they are treated fairly, are aware of their rights and get value for money when buying air travel.

“It is clear there are many aspects the industry is getting right but there are some areas, including how passengers are treated during and after disruption and how they manage complaints, where some of the industry is currently falling short.

“In order to encourage better complaint handling at UK airlines, we approved a number of Alternative Dispute Resolution services, which ensures airline passengers can get an independent and legally binding resolution, where disputes occur.

“However, while many of the largest UK airlines have now signed up to ADR, we are now urging all remaining airlines to get on board with ADR, and improve the passenger experience when complaints are made.

“If improvements are not delivered and we continue to see dissatisfaction we will not hesitate to use our regulatory and enforcement powers.”

Alongside our work to improve complaint handling, the CAA has been using its regulatory powers to ensure airlines comply with passengers' rights regulations, and published two compliance reports in 2015 (see below).

Following this the CAA got a number of airlines to change their policies around paying compensation for delays and cancellations and improving the information they provided passengers during disruption.

Read more in the CAA's Aviation Consumer Tracker research, wave one and wave two.

Media enquiries

If you are from the media, please call the CAA press office on 0207 453 6030, or email. press.office@caa.co.uk.

Notes to Editors

  • At the start of 2016, the CAA commissioned Ipsos MORI to survey UK residents to understand how often (or not) they fly, the reasons they choose to fly (or not), and whether or not they enjoyed flying. In addition the survey looked at other aviation issues, such as perceptions of the aviation industry in terms of safety; security; choice, value and fair treatment (including how complaints are handled); and how aware consumers are of their rights in the aviation sector.
  • A total of 3,507 interviews were conducted between 23rd February - 15th March 2016. 3,007 interviews were conducted online and 500 were conducted over the telephone.
  • Later this year we commissioned a second wave of research, and have continued to use the same. methodology as the first wave, in order to understand how behaviour and attitudes changes over time.
  • A total of 3,551 interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample between 14th September and 3rd October 2016. 3,051 interviews were conducted online and 500 were conducted over the telephone.
  • This mixed methodology approach was adopted to make the survey as inclusive as possible.
  • For the online interviews, participants were used from Ipsos' online panel. For telephone interviews, these were conducted mainly through random digit dialling approach, but some targeted sample was also included.
  • Interview quotas were set to reflect the UK adult population in terms of gender, age, region and working status. Where the final number of interviews did not exactly match quotas, weighting was then applied to the final data according to these criteria.
  • The questionnaire was designed to average 12 minutes online and 15 minutes by telephone. To keep the telephone interview length to a minimum, some questions were only asked on the online survey and not the telephone survey. This is highlighted in this report where this is the case. This research has been conducted in accordance with Ipsos MORI's standards and accreditations.
  • Percentages with * next to them denotes this is a statistic averaged from the two consumer tracker surveys carried out in 2016.
  • Percentages with ** denotes this statistic is solely from the second consumer tracker survey carried out on 2016.
  • For a list of all airlines, which have signed up to Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes go to: our web page on Alternative-dispute-resolution/

Passenger Rights reports

  • A right to know: compliance report - a comprehensive review of airline policies in relation to supporting passengers during disruption through the provision of information about their rights.
  • Financial compensation, technical faults and time limitations: Compliance report - the CAA assessed the impact of court decisions on whether technical faults on aircraft could be considered to be extraordinary circumstances and whether the period for bringing a claim under EC261 can be restricted. This report allow consumers to take an informed decision when making their booking based on how they are likely to be treated if they experience a problem.