/ 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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Let’s be clear :

1. If you experience denied boarding, delays, flight cancellations, damage to bags, lost luggage, or problems faced by disabled passengers you can complain for nothing – no fee will be charged.

2. If your complaint is upheld you will get any compensation or other redress that is due to you.

3. If your complaint is rejected you will be given the reasons and can decide, taking account of relevant factors, whether (a) to pursue the claim for a maximum fee of £25 [it could be less or nothing depending on the airline’s dispute resolution scheme], or (b) to drop your claim.

4. If you continue your claim via the independent ADR body you will get a binding decision which will be final. This is better than the current CAA scheme which is not binding on the airline, and is more convenient than making a court claim which could involve an appearance [there could also be potential complications with foreign airlines].

5. If the ADR body upholds your complaint your fee will be returned.

Well explained Mr. W.

The article is confusing and would have been much clearer in making the distinction between the :
CLAIM and the subsequent – act of saying or writing that you are unhappy or dissatisfied with the result – leading to the COMPLAINT.

Overall I think it is clunky and may well deter some people from the secondary phase. However given that it may be no fee or at worst £25 I actually cannot get too excited about it.

Is it worse than having the CAA in the loop, probably. However as no numbers are quoted for the numbers making a complaint after a claim its hard to know whether this is a mountain out of a molehill subject. Perhaps Which? can publish how many claims the CAA deals with annually under the old system.

Is there a button to complain about the topic header and headline? 🙂

Improve transparency, customer service and quality then there should be no need to complain and airline service costs should reduce.

Jeff Smith says:
25 August 2016

The final decision would be based upon the value of the reason for the complaint, consideration would then be my guide

I believe the reason for the £25 charge is because airlines don’t want to pay compensation for their responsibility. They make enough money as it is. They would rather blame someone else.

I believe Airlines don’t want to pay compensation and therefore want more money to help them if someone does complain. They would also think people would think twice before complaining if they had to pay. Just pure greed.

James Knowles says:
25 August 2016

Any organisation that wants to charge for customers to complain is demonstrating that they are devoid of any kind of customer care ethic and I would not spend my hard earned money with any company that operated in this way ,therefore would not need to pay in order to complain .

John McKenzie says:
25 August 2016

You’ve asked the wrong question and this is likely to skew your findings.
Would I still complain — yes; should airlines be allowed to charge a fee — emphatically no.

David Ellis says:
25 August 2016

This is simply a ploy to deter complaints and give the airlines an easier life and help to dodge their responsibilities. Whether I would still make a complaint would depend on the value of the loss. e.g. it would not be worth risking £25 for £10 of damage to luggage. However, as a principle airlines, or anyone else, should not have to pay to make a complaint aboiut bad service.

Where holidays are concerned the remedy lies in our own hands. We waited 7 hours at Aberdeen for Easy Jet to fly a second crew from Luton up to Aberdeen to collect an aircraft because the first crew did not want to finish their day at Luton when their home station was Stanstead. So much for customer care. We now no longer fly, and have rediscovered the joys of Continental motoring, significantly less waiting around, no stupid searches and changing our minds because we like the look of a road. Fabulous time in Austria and a wonderful B & B with flower decked balconies, having set out to drive to Spain! Flying, forget it, we wouldn’t even bother with long haul any more.

Another way of putting this: the airline will fine you £25 for what *they* deem to be an illegitimate complaint. They will then use the ‘failed’ complainant’s money to pay off customers whose complaints are deemed legitimate. Thus they will use one lot of customers’ money, to pay off another lot of customers. That seems like a scam to me, but others would say it’s just clever business practice.

The airlines don’t fine anybody. If a passenger disputes the response of the airline to their complaint they can use the alternative dispute resolution process which might require a fee of up to £25 payable to the ADR body. If their claim is successful they get a binding resolution against the airline and their fee back. The airline receives no money and if they continually fail to provide suitable remedies will be seriously out-of-pocket. Some of these issues will hardly ever lead to a dispute – lost luggage is usually an open-and-shut case and the airline compensates the passenger accordingly.

What Which? has not made clear is 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.

John – multiple claimants in a party. My guess would be that as the contract between passenger and airline is with the ticket holder it would be for an individual to pursue their own case. However if one representative of the group pursues a “test case” with the ADR then the binding decision that resulted would no doubt be seen by the other potential claimants as the outcome if they were to take up their own claims. Equally the airline would see what the inevitable outcome would be. I’d suggest common sense would then prevail.

Yes, that was my thought. As soon as Which? finds out definitively I hope they will include it in their advice to travellers so as to avoid the need and cost for multiple identical claims where the circumstances are identical.

I complained to South African Airlines on 2/08/2016 about delayed flights. I am still awaiting a reply. Therefore paying for a dispute is definitely a no go.

@jbamforth, jen, a number of people have pointed out that this headline, and the intro, are very misleading. Many people seem to have assumed that an initial complaint to an airline is going to cost them money whereas it seems that is not true. It is only when you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint that a fee may be charged if you go to dispute resolution.

Unless this is incorrect do you not think this headline and whole intro should be revised to reflect the true situation?

I am guessing, but a lot of people seem to be coming to this Conversation in response to some invitation which might also be misleading. It is clear that they are not reading the Intro nor any of the comments that balance its content. Whatever incitement to contribute has been issued might also benefit from revision.

@jbamforth, thanks Jen. Can I just suggest that your intent to “unsure clarity”, which is the problem, becomes “ensure clarity”. Sorry 🙂

The key is to make it clear to people that the complaint process to your airline or airport is not affected, and is free. It is only if you are unhappy with the outcome that the ADR service provides a solution, for a nominal (refundable if successful) fee.

I think the phrase ” If your airline don’t take your complaint seriously” is unhelpful. They may well take your complaint seriously and make a decision that you disagree with, that does not give the outcome you’d hoped for. This gives you the opportunity to pursue your claim with little financial risk, and less hassle than going to court.

Why take out Travel insurance which usually includes flight cancelation and lost baggage.
Does this mean the travel insurance companies will load their premiums.

There are far bigger risks in going abroad for which travel insurance is a good protection. Lost luggage cover is a fringe benefit in the overall scheme of things.

I only complain when its important. If they want to have a fee, (to deter irresponsible complaints) they should refund twice the fee for a successful compliant.

Dennis, I think it should be the airline from whom you should seek compensation, if any is warranted,not the independent dispute resolution service which is there to help you.

Disgusting .nonsnse. Really bad suggestion. I oppose this idea. Airline industry how much more money want from passengers. Very very very bad idea.

If you have a justifiable complaint about the service you have received, make it to the apporopriate manager or director. If, however, your complaint deserves recompense or damages, write to the Company Secretary at the airlines registered office and head you complaint and request for recompense “WITHOUT PREJUDICE”. Give them a reasonable period to respond, 21 or 28 days, then write again similarly with 14 days notice of commencing a claim in the Small Claims Court.

If on average it’s true that 1 in every 3,000 baggages goes missing, chances are the airline will resort to auctioning your luggage off, content in the knowledge you will most probably have been compensated by your insurance company.
See bbc.com – Did an airline auction off your luggage? Brendon Cole – 08.09.2015.

Apparently Kansai International Airport, Osaka is the place to visit as it claims to have not lost a single baggage since it opened in 1994, but to answer the question would I complain, yes I would, but would certainly challenge being charged a fee for taking the matter further through the airlines apparent incompetence to solve it at its basic rudimentary level.

If you have a sound case then your “fee” will be refunded even if all you look for, and get, is an apology from the airline. So as I see it the refundable “deposit” is a deterrent to those who wish to make trivial, unfounded or otherwise baseless complaints. Genuine complainants will seemingly get fair treatment.


According to SITA, only 5.5 per cent of “mislaid” bags are lost or stolen never to be reunited with their owners. This, judging by SITA worldwide stats, would be 0.4 bags per 1000 passengers that are never recovered.

I think decent airlines sit on found luggage for some time before they send it to auction, and I would expect them to make two or three attempts to contact the passenger who must have reported it missing. But, as Beryls says, by this time the passenger will probably have been compensated by their insurer sufficiently to replace their top-of-the range suitcase and all their designer clothing and state-of-the-art possessions. The last thing they want is to be reunited with their battered baggage full of sad-looking laundry so they make no attempt to reclaim it from the airline and be obliged in consequence to declare its recovery to their insurance company. I am clearly under absolutely no delusions that there is nothing but the utmost good faith and total honesty on all sides in this matter.

I believe airlines actively look to reunite passenger and luggage for some time before giving up.
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “Usually we use continued tracing for a minimum of 90 days.”
“All major airlines use the World Tracer System, which tracks a bag for 100 days and uses the information provided by you about the appearance of the bag as well as the journey history to try to locate it.”

Thanks Malcolm. I thought they were quite conscientious. It must cost the airlines a lot of money, and perhaps insurance companies should take a bit more time before paying out on a claim which also costs them a lot of money. This all goes into prices somewhere along the line.

As I understand it, when baggage comes up for auction it is sold ‘sight unseen’ – no attempt has been made to open the suitcases so bidders have to guess the value of the contents and bid accordingly. This is a good tactic because it no doubt enhances the return for the airline to offset the cost of re-homing missing luggage.

Today all conglomerates are interested only in the bottom line profit.
My own experience is that regulators are not worth the paper written on
If you have a genuine complajnt court action is what they understand
defending any claim to the last minute they then pay up a day or to before the court hearing.

Stuart says:
26 August 2016

Complain to the CEO and if he doesn’t reply or deal with it issue a summons in the small claims court.

Stuart, the ADR is designed to avoid the hassle of a small claims court, where you may incur considerable unrecoverable expense. If the independent ADRs do a proper job then a fair decision will be reached with much less cost to all. You can still choose to take that route of course if your case is strong enough.