Flight cancellations have topped a list of customer complaints to the UK CAA-led Air Transport Users Council (AUC), with European passenger compensation rules again boosting the number of grievances.

In 2005-06 complaints logged by AUC tripled, which the body believes was spurred by Europe’s passenger compensation regulations.

AUC says: “That upward trend continued during 2006-07 with a further increase of 22%, to a total of 12,046 of which 6,600 related to the regulation.

“It seems clear that regulation 261/2004 resulted in a step-change increase in demand for our services. There is every indication that the current level of demand is here to stay.”

The top five gripes, logged by telephone or in writing, comprised cancellations, delays, mishandled baggage, reservations problems and denied boarding. Specific incidents which drove complaints included the 10 August 2006 security alert at London Heathrow and fog at Heathrow during December.

AUC says: “In both cases, too many of the complaints were from passengers who had incurred expenses that they should not have incurred if the airlines had honoured their legal obligations.

“In contrast, written complaints about delays have decreased markedly this year compared with last year, possibly because there appears to be less confusion for passengers about their rights under the regulation following delays.”

The UK’s strict baggage policy following 10 August, coupled with unrelated airline hold baggage policy changes, helped to fuel a doubling of baggage-related complaints.

“Passengers have been caught unaware – for whatever reason – and that appears to lie behind the significant pro-rate increase in complaints and enquiries.”

The newly introduced air passenger duty also spurred a doubling of tax-related complaints, as airlines legitimately sought payments in addition to previously paid air fares.

The AUC labels the government as “the true villain” for doubling the tax and for its rapid introduction.

But the AUC adds: “Even with the recent increases in the number of complaints and enquiries, we are wary of reading too much into them because they only correspond to a tiny proportion of the numbers of passengers using UK airports.”

Source: FlightGlobal.com