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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Airlines attacked over 'poor standards'
Ryanair airplane takes off
Cheap, but not necessarily cheerful
Air passengers' watchdogs have criticised the standards of service provided by some of the most popular airlines operating out of the UK.

Lost luggage, flight cancellations and problems with tickets - particularly for those booked over the internet and by telephone - were among the most common complaints.

The Air Transport Users Council (AUC) said there was also "little evidence" that airlines were showing "any real concern about the impact on passengers of damaged, delayed or lost luggage".

The AUC said it was especially worried about budget airline Ryanair which, it claimed, often displayed a poor attitude towards its customers.

Overall, Ryanair was the third most complained about airline - receiving 77 written complaints, compared with 117 for the biggest carrier, British Airways, and 110 for Air France.

The AUC, the official consumer watchdog for the airline industry, has not previously revealed airlines' complaints total.

Complaints fell

Ryanair's complaints tally compared with 42 for rival budget carrier Easyjet and 32 for Go.

What is the Air Transport Users' Council?
The consumer watchdog for the airline industry, funded by the Civil Aviation Authority
Advises air travellers on their rights, and takes up individual cases to help poorly-treated passengers seek redress

But Ryanair director Michael Cawley dismissed the AUC's findings.

He said Ryanair received only 77 written complaints through the AUC in a year when it had carried 11 million passengers.

While traffic levels had increased by 40 per cent over the year, the number of complaints had fallen from 138.

He told the BBC: "The fact that they get less than one complaint per 225,000 passengers is indicative of the fact that they don't represent anybody but themselves."

Ryanair responded to complaints within seven days, he said, and complaints via the AUC were down by more than 50 per cent.

The council said part of the reason for the decline was because Ryanair was refusing to work with it.

Top five written complaints
Delay: 19%
Mishandled baggage: 15%
Flight cancellations: 9%
Reservations: 8%
Overbooking: 7%

"We therefore do not encourage callers to our telephone advice line to send us copies of their correspondence with Ryanair, even if the complaint is of the type we would normally take up with an airline," a council spokesman said.

But Mr Cawley said Ryanair chiefs refused to work with the AUC because it failed to address serious issues including travel agency commission and airport charges, which increased costs.

British Airways, which topped the complaints table, said the numbers should be put into perspective as it was "by far the largest airline" on the list.

A BA spokeswoman said that, while it had received "117 complaints too many", the airline carried 40 million passengers a year, "so those figures equate to one complaint per 350,000 passengers".

Internet bookings

The consumer watchdog received written complaints against 120 different airlines last year.

Overall, the AUC received 1,163 written complaints in the year to April, compared with 1,417 in 2000-01.

Top five telephone complaints
Mishandled baggage: 19%
Ticketing problem: 15%
Delays: 9%
Flight cancellations: 7%
Airline failure: 7%

Telephone complaints increased by 14% to 4,252.

AUC chairman Ian Hamer said: "We are handling increasing numbers of telephone enquiries about reservations errors, most of which appear to have arisen from direct bookings with airlines either over the telephone or via the internet."

Problems with tickets frequently included passengers' names being wrong and airlines refusing to replace lost tickets or change flight times.

Mr Hamer suggests people should print off the internet page before the final "send" or "confirm", as well as printing off the confirmation.

Top 20 airlines by number of complaints to AUC (1 April 2001-31 March 2002):

1) British Airways + subsidiaries: 117
2) Air France: 110
3) Ryanair: 77
4) KLM + subsidiaries: 53
5) Easyjet: 42
6) MyTravel (formerly Airtours):39
7) Britannia: 33
8=) Air 2000: 32
8=)Go: 32
10) BMI British Midland: 29
11) JMC: 24
12) Lufthansa: 23
13) Virgin Atlantic:22
14) Monarch Airlines: 20
15) Air India:19
16) Iberia Airlines: 18
17) Gulf Air: 16
18=) Emirates Airlines: 13
18=) Pakistan International Airlines: 13
20) British European: 12

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"There seems to be higher rates of complaint about budget airlines than full service carriers like BA"
Ryanair director Michael Cawley
"They [the watchdog] are not addressing the real issues"
The BBC's Phillipa Busby
"It's a bit of a scrum when you board a Ryanair flight because they don't make any allocations for seats"


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