/ Travel & Leisure

Would you pay to complain to an ombudsman about your airline?

Paper money airplane

Flight delayed? Baggage lost? An airline regulator thinks it should cost you £25 to further your complaint about your airline under the alternative dispute resolution’s new complaints system.

Under this new system air passengers could be charged £25 to complain to one of the aviation ombudsmen about lost luggage and delays if their complaint is unsuccessful. It’s a bold move that could deter many travellers from furthering a complaint about their airline.

But more than that, this new complaints system by the aviation regulator sets in place a muddled process that seems likely to confuse passengers.

Complaining about an airline

Previously passenger complaints that weren’t resolved by airlines could be escalated to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). However, any judgment made by the CAA was non-binding on airlines and some passengers would have to take civil cases to the courts.

Under these new complaints rules, airlines have been urged to sign up to CAA-approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies. These ADR bodies will arbitrate on cases and set compensation, without forcing passengers to take court action. The bodies will cover denied boarding, delays, flight cancellations, damage to bags, lost luggage and problems faced by disabled passengers.

The problem is, to date, 20 major airlines — accounting for more than two thirds of passengers who fly in and out of UK airports — have signed up to three different complaints bodies.

We now have a voluntary system with multiple complaints bodies which is hopelessly muddled and confusing for passengers.

Paying to complain

Can they really make us pay to complain?

Yes. One complaints body, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) is now charging a £25 fee ‘if your complaint is 100% unsuccessful’.

While another, which is yet to get any airlines signed up, charges £10 that’s refunded to you if you win your case. And the two other bodies don’t currently charge a fee.

This unreasonable charge is placed on people who’ve already been delayed and may have had to pay out additional costs due to that delay. The concern is that this charge is likely to put people off making complaints, even when they have good cause to do so.

Improving complaints

This new complaints charge is part of wider system changes to complaints procedures in aviation that we don’t think is adequate enough to respond to complaints. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to step in and introduce legislation for a single ombudsman that’s mandatory for all airlines to join.

So, what do you think, is this an adequate solution to improve complaints procedures for passengers? Would you be happy to pay to complain?

Would you complain about an airline knowing you risk being charged a fee for the complaint?

Maybe - I'd be more cautious about making a complaint (43%, 1,786 Votes)

Yes - I'd still complain (30%, 1,279 Votes)

No - I wouldn't complain if I risked paying for it (20%, 837 Votes)

Not sure (7%, 293 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,195

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Stephen Hart says:
26 August 2016

I,m afraid that Which is falling into the old tabloid press habit of giving out just enough information to create a fuss but not sufficient information on which to base a debate. Yes, I would pay if the charge is only made in the event that I win the claim and on the bases that the person making the decision is wholly independant of the airline/organisation. Sadly this articles makes neither point (and a whole host of others) clear.


Stephen, I agree. The issue seems far more straightforward and beneficial than seems to be portrayed. You have the normal (free) complaints procedure with your airline or airport to follow initially. Only if you are unhappy with the outcome have you the option of challenging their decision through ADR. Also, you only pay if you lose.

The CAA website fully explains the ADR structure.
For example
“It is the CAA’s view that the provision of quality ADR services for consumer disputes stemming from contracts for aviation services will benefit consumers and lead to quick, fair, low cost (if not free) and binding solutions to their problems.
The CAA has approved independent complaints handling bodies that consumers can call on to help resolve consumer complaints to airlines about air travel if their airline has agreed to participate in ADR.”

“If ADR bodies do charge a small fee (the maximum is £25), this must be refunded to the passenger if the ADR body upholds the passenger’s complaint in any way – even if this consists solely of an apology from the airline, if that is what the consumer was seeking.”

“We believe ADR delivers the best outcomes to consumers that have disputes stemming from a contract with an airline.
However, the CAA’s complaints service will continue to handle complaints for consumers flying with airlines that have not agreed to participate in an approved ADR scheme.”

The Which? Intro says “Under this new system air passengers could be charged £25 to complain about lost luggage and delays. It’s a bold move that could deter many travellers from making claims.”. That does not properly reflect the proposal, does it, which may be why so many people, from their replies, seem to have been confused.


Stephen, you would only have to pay a fee to the ADR body if your claim was not upheld. The ADR bodies have to be approved by the CAA and are independent of the airlines – they specialise in dispute resolution in many areas other than complaints about airline decisions arising from passenger complaints. Unfortunately to get the whole truth you need to read all the comments contributed and make your mind up who to have confidence in, or you can check out the CAA website via the red links in the Introduction.


I’m sorry that you feel this way Stephen. The article was intended to highlight an issue that we thought would be of interest to consumers. We wanted to use it to reach out and ask people the question of whether they would be willing to pay in this instance. We are concerned that this may act as another potential barrier to receiving compensation in an already complex system. I appreciate your comments and I will keep this in mind when writing future pieces.


Jen – Have you been able yet to find out from the CAA whether each passenger in a party would have to submit an ADR claim or just the ticket purchaser on behalf of the family or group [see my comment on 25/08/16]? A £100 fee for a family could certainly put them off seeking ADR, or could one member make a specimen claim that would bind on the remainder if the circumstances were identical? I have looked on the CAA website but not been able to find anything. Thanks.


@jbamforth, are you intending to amend the introduction to make quite clear how the complaints system will work, rather than giving the impression. as many seem to have found, that in future you will have to pay to make an initial complaint? This is not the case of course. Will you also stress that rather than having maybe to take a rejected initial complaint to court, if you feel sufficiently aggrieved by the response, the introduction of the ADR service provides a much cheaper and simpler alternative?

I think it is important that Which? provides clarity and all the essential facts to ensure an ensuing debate is properly based.

Richard says:
27 August 2016

This may have been said earlier, but I feel we are being expected to cover the costs of airlines’ mistakes. If we dispatched our luggage then they have a duty of care to ensure it is safely delivered with owners to same destination.

I am a VIP Qantas card holder and they provide RFID chipped luggage tags for members. I read today that Delta Airlines are introducing RFID tags for all class of their passengers. These would alert cabin staff that a piece of luggage hasn’t arrived, or more importantly has been sent to the wrong plane before takeoff.

These are so useful international legislation must be introduced requiring all airlines to use them. They are very, very cheap to produce ca. 1p each. It would add nothing to passenger fares as costs would be easily recovered by a significantly huge drop for airline staff having to track misplaced luggage.


I am not sure how many spurious, or trivial, complaints the airlines receive – and, by that I mean those that are completely unjustified – I am pretty certain there are individuals whose aim is simply to extort money. Dealing with inappropriate communications takes up a great deal of time and, inevitably, legitimate issues are not dealt with punctiliously (I know because I work in the public sector and have some experience of dealing with complaints myself). I am also well travelled, and there are two sides to this story – I have often seen behaviour from passengers that is inappropriate and impacts on fellow travellers. Indeed, three years ago, my daughter’s aircraft had to divert to Serbia resulting in an unplanned overnight stop because a passenger had boarded the aircraft despite longstanding medical advice to the contrary (they suffered from very severe asthma). In my opinion, providing the fee is refunded if the complaint is upheld, and this results in better administration of all complaints, I feel it would benefit those who are raising legitimate concerns.