Passengers involved in disputes with airlines over issues such as delayed flights and lost luggage will soon be able to take their complaints to an independent ombudsman for the first time.
Following consultation, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) plans to end its role as a complaint handler and establish an independent ombudsman or “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) scheme towards the end of the year.
The new system would be modelled on how ombudsman work in the energy and financial services sectors and would focus on delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, poor service and accessibility problems for disabled passengers. It could also be used to handle complaints about airports.
The move comes after claims that some airlines were not paying compensation despite CAA rulings.
Currently, CAA decisions are not binding as the body has no legal powers to force airlines to pay compensation or other redress, forcing passengers to pursue civil claims through the courts. Under the proposals, airlines using ADR would have to abide by the decisions.
Membership would be voluntary but the government could be asked to legislate to make it compulsory if the majority of airlines don’t sign up, the CCA said.
Iain Osborne, group director of regulatory policy at the CAA, said: ‘It can’t be right that many air passengers have to go to court to get a concrete resolution to their complaint - especially when they can easily go to an independent ombudsman with an unresolved telecoms, energy or financial services problem.
‘We are not prepared to let that situation continue and moving towards an ombudsman-style approach for aviation will make sure air passengers benefit from the quick, fair and certain approach to dispute resolution that has long been the norm in other major consumer markets.’
The ADR will be directly funded by the businesses that use it and is likely to be set up by the airline industry with the CAA providing regulatory oversight.
In a statement, the CCA said: ‘By 1 September 2015, the CAA wants to see firm commitment to ADR from airlines that together carry at least 50% of passengers to and from UK airports. If this milestone is reached, the CAA will begin to wind down its own passenger complaint handling service, although it will continue to use intelligence from passenger complaints to support its consumer enforcement work.’
The changes have also been prompted by a European Directive on ADR, which requires schemes to be available to help settle any dispute that cannot be resolved though a business’s own complaint handling procedure.
The CAA is now welcoming applications from organisations interested in setting up ADR schemes ahead of implementation of the ADR Directive in July 2015.