Airline customer complaints hitting record levels; world’s legislators vow to act

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LONDON – Ms Nikoleta Dodova is among a growing number of dissatisfied airline customers.

Having bought her mother and niece airline tickets from Sweden to Macedonia in 2022, their flight was cancelled and they ended up at an airport over two hours away. She is still waiting for compensation.

Official data from regulatory agencies shows complaints against airlines have reached, or neared, record levels in countries like Canada and Germany over 2022 since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and travel restarted.

Rising numbers of disputes between travellers and airlines globally are driving fresh legislation and calls for tougher enforcement of existing rules to protect consumers.

“If they (airlines) haven’t paid, they’re not following the law,” Ms Dodova said. “They need to be accountable.”

The sharpening of rules for payouts could add to pressure on air fares from energy, labour and other rising costs.

Lufthansa’s payouts alone rose to €331 million (S$480 million) in 2022 from €25 million in 2021, the German airline group told Reuters in previously undisclosed figures.

Legislation is under review in Canada, while the US government is writing new rules. The European Union is pushing for stronger enforcement of its existing regime.

Pressure to act is building, as summer travel is expected to break records in some regions in 2023 following long airport lines and piles of backed up baggage last summer.

Airlines fear a mish-mash of conflicting rules and want those responsible for services out of their control in the industry to help shoulder the compensation costs.

European airline group Airlines for Europe (A4E) said compensation has become increasingly burdensome, and existing rules leave too much down to interpretation. It is calling for reform of the legislation.

While higher fares have helped carriers offset a variety of rising costs, “it’s in the airline’s interest to keep passengers happy even if there are disruptions”, aviation analyst James Halstead said.

Lufthansa said in a statement it has no backlog of customer claims, and refunds are generally paid within the statutory seven days that applies to airlines operating in Europe.

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