The UK Government has launched plans to bolster airline passenger protections and rights which will amend compensation processes for delayed UK domestic flights and improve access to faster and cheaper dispute resolution.

The government said the proposals being consulted on had been made possible due to the country’s departure from the EU. The plans were announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Monday and follow calls for change from leading airlines and consumer groups.

The proposals include considering the creation of a fairer compensation model for when domestic UK flights are delayed. Based on the current compensation model used by rail and ferry customers, this will see a significant shift away from the current ‘set rate’ model. Passengers would instead be able to claim compensation based on the length of the flight delay and linked to cost of travel, rather than having to meet a certain threshold – currently a three hour delay.

Proposals mandate all airlines to join Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme

The Government is also considering mandating all airlines to be part of the aviation ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ (ADR) scheme, which would give consumers a route for escalating certain complaints that cannot be settled between the consumer and airline without needing to go to court.

Within the current set up, there are two providers of ADR in the UK, and airlines can join voluntarily. Under the new proposals, all airlines would have to join the scheme, giving customers access to this dispute route regardless of who they fly with. This could help people who are struggling to get refunds when they are entitled to them.

The proposals also aim to strengthen the UK Regulator’s powers to further protect both consumers’ and airlines’ interests. The UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) works to ensure consumers are protected and treated fairly. Under the new proposals, the CAA would be given increased powers to enforce consumer protection law and would be able to fine airlines directly for breaches where appropriate.

Shapps: review will build a “trustworthy, reputable sector”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “People deserve a service that puts passengers first when things go wrong, so today I’ve launched proposals which aim to bolster airline consumer protections and rights. We’re making the most of our Brexit dividend with our new freedoms outside of the EU, and this review will help build a trustworthy, reputable sector.”

Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “We welcome the action from the government to improve the rights of air passengers. This consultation is a clear indication of the need to enhance our enforcement powers, and bring us in line with other regulators. The proposals will improve passenger rights and equip the Civil Aviation Authority with the appropriate tools to act swiftly and effectively for the benefit of consumers. The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme has helped thousands consumers seek redress from their airline or airport, and we welcome the proposal to bring more airlines onto the scheme. We will respond to the consultation in the coming weeks.”

Airlines UK – satisfaction with aviation is at 82 per cent

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said: “Airlines work hard to ensure that the passenger experience is as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Put simply, without their customers carriers would not exist. This is borne out by the most recent CAA tracker – conducted during the pandemic – which showed net satisfaction with aviation at 82 per cent. We look forward to responding to the consultation, whilst continuing to deliver for our passengers as we look ahead to the spring and summer season and the sector’s eventual recovery from Covid.”

The plans also consult on mandating that airlines provide wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility with the full amount of compensation for any damage caused to their wheelchair or mobility scooter during a domestic UK flight. At present, under legacy rules, airlines are not mandated to cover the cost of repairs, even if the device is damaged while in their care.

Rocio Concha of consumer rights group Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: “This consultation is a welcome first step that must improve and strengthen consumer rights and protections so that complaints are dealt with fairly and promptly, and that passengers receive the money they are due quickly and without unnecessary hassle. It is also vital that the system is backed up by a regulator with the powers it needs to take swift and strong action against any company that breaks consumer law.”

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