Air passenger complaints more than double

THE number of complaints and queries made about air travel to the European Consumer Centre in Dublin more than doubled last year.

Almost 800 consumers contacted the ECC’s Irish office to seek information and help in solving their disputes with airlines.

A total of 792 complaints were recorded by the ECC in 2005 - a rise of 152% when compared to just 314 in the previous year.

Manager of ECC Dublin Tina Leonard said the increase was largely explained by the fact that new EU legislation, which provides improved rights for air travellers, came into effect on February 17, 2005.

However, Ms Leonard expressed concern that the high level of complaints demonstrated the reluctance of airlines to fulfil their obligations under the new legislation.

“It is our opinion that the increase in complaints reflects a growing awareness among consumers that they have rights and that these new rights are sometimes not being respected by many airlines,” she said.

“Reputations are being tarnished and consumers will go elsewhere to get the service to which they are entitled,” she added.

Her comments echo criticism made by the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) last year about the way both Aer Lingus and Ryanair have handled customer complaints.

The CAR is the official body for ensuring that airlines comply with the EU directive on air passenger rights. It has almost 120 active cases relating to formal complaints from passengers who were dissatisfied with the response of airlines to problems they experienced on their travels.

The vast majority relate to the failure of airlines to provide food, drink and accommodation as a result of delayed flights.

According to an informed source, Aer Lingus has the worst record of any Irish airline for dealing with complaints from passengers.

“Although Ryanair gets a lot of criticism, they are generally more responsive to such complaints than Aer Lingus,” said the source.

An Aer Lingus spokesperson admitted last year that the airline was slow to respond to customers due to a backlog of complaints.

Meanwhile, a survey carried out by the ECC last year showed that only one- in-three people are aware of their air passenger rights.

Air travellers within the EU are entitled to free meals, drinks and phone calls for short-haul flights delayed by more than two hours when such delays and cancellations are caused by an airline.

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