Air passenger complaints to regulator more than doubled last year

Commission for Aviation Regulation received 4,543 complaints

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a more than doubling in the number of airline passenger complaints to aviation sector watchdog, the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), last year.

CAR's annual report for 2020 shows that the number of airline passenger complaints increased by 134 per cent to 4,543 in "a record-breaking year" for the commission's Air Passenger Rights team.

The report states that the commission recovered €1.25 million in refunds and compensation for air passengers, comprised of €1.14 million in refunds and a further €112,000 in compensation concerning 2,039 concluded complaints.

This compares to the 2019 total of €741,340 in refunds and compensation made up of €648,475 in compensation and €92,865 in refunds.

The report shows that Ryanair accounted for 48 per cent of complaints in 2020, with Aer Lingus accounting for 27 per cent and the remainder concerning 84 other airlines .

The number of complaints against Ryanair totalled 2,188, with 50 per cent or 1,021 of concluded complaints to date upheld. Some 1,039 were not sustained against the airline. A further 128 investigations are ongoing.

The report shows that 1,194 complaints were made against Aer Lingus with 50 per cent or 524 of concluded complaints upheld and 516 not upheld. The commission has investigations ongoing in 154 complaints.

The report states that in total the commission’s Air Passenger Rights team has completed the investigation of 3,947 complaints and found 1,908 complaints to be without merit. By January 29th, 2021, 2,039 of the 2,550 complaints requiring enforcement had been resolved with the airline in favour of the passenger.

CAR said that in relation to 3,491 complaints concerning flight cancellations, 1,804 were resolved through refunds or expenses with a further 1,179 cancellation complaints withdrawn.

Another 370 complaints were not sustained with compensation only paid out in 42 cases.

The report states that due to the unusual travel conditions during 2020 “the majority of the complaints related to flight cancellations, as opposed to long delays as in previous years”.

Flight cancellations

The figures show that 92 per cent of  complaints concerned flight cancellations.CAR said that “due to the very high volume of cancellations air carriers were struggling to process refunds in a timely manner, and some airlines were failing to correctly advise passengers of their rights regarding refunds”.

The busiest months for complaints were April and May last during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

In her report, commissioner Cathy Mannion stated that the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation and travel industries "has been devastating". She said that by the end of 2020, 181 tour operators and travel agents were licensed compared to 211 in 2019.

She said the commission received 3,620 claims from customers under the insolvency protection scheme, with the largest proportion of these related to the collapse of USIT Travel Ltd.

Last year, the Commission recorded a deficit of €117,000. The commission’s costs totalled €3.6 million as its income amounted to €3.49 million.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times

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