Are you fed up with the way your airline is treating you? Annoyed with never-ending charges that triple the cost of your flight?

Frustrated with complicated websites and apps and unnecessary rules and procedures? And of course, did you get short shrift when trying to get compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight?

You are not alone.

This week I launched a new report – commissioned by On The Beach – that lays bare the shocking scale of problems caused by some airlines and their anti-competitive behaviour. The report highlights a range of concerns about the outrageous practices of some low-cost airlines. From introducing unnecessary and complex rules to stop people booking through travel agents, to blatantly ignoring laws that protect consumer rights and guarantee refunds when flights don’t take off on time (or at all).

Over the coming weeks me and my fellow consumer rights campaigners will be talking to politicians and regulators to ask them to tighten regulations so airlines aren’t able to get away with these unfair practices. But I need your help too.

And here’s why…

What are the airlines up to?

The report revealed a worryingly wide range of practices by some airlines designed to hide costs and force people to book with airlines direct. This is of particular concern, because if airlines dominate airports, flight routes and bookings, they can get away with all sorts of unfair practices, unless the regulators force them to change.

These include:

Delayed Refunds. Despite statements made to the media over the pandemic and last few years, some airlines have not been refunding the money that they claimed they had done. This has resulted in a number of ongoing court cases where travel agents attempt to recoup money they’ve been forced to pay out to their customers in lieu of the airlines refunding the money they are required to do by law.

Restricting seat availability: Using comparison sites and travel agents can help you find the best or most convenient flights. But some airlines are not making all of their flights or seats available – forcing people to use their websites to see all the options.

Unnecessary verification procedures. Some airlines were found to be introducing unnecessary and complex passenger verification requirements. This is particularly annoying, given the fact that they’ve got you passport number already! One airline even introduced facial recognition software.

Making it hard to book through travel agents. Many travel agents that sell packaged holidays have ATOL protection. This is a vital extra layer of support for holidaymakers if there’s a problem with a holiday before you travel or while you’re on it. Yet some airlines are trying to cut out travel agents by refusing to take their credit card payments, introducing additional layers of authentication, using scare tactics to put people off booking this way and hiding some seats and deals

What I find extraordinary about this behaviour of these airlines is in virtually every other business sector in the UK, comparison sites and online marketplaces are not only available, they’re actively embraced and considered good for business.

I can only conclude that some airlines are trying to force people to book direct so they don’t have to reveal the true cost of their services so you can’t compare prices. And these costs can be massive.

I recently booked a flight to France with a low-cost airline. I found it almost impossible to work out what I would end up paying – both during the process and even at the end of it. I was charged:

  • £82.48 for hold luggage (one suitcase both ways).
  • £52 for a cabin bag (one bag both ways).
  • £18 for a ‘basic’ seat allocation (both ways).

At checkout my seat allocation charge had mysteriously increased to £26.48 without explanation. In total, that’s £160.96 in extra charges. That’s the same as my flights cost at face value.

I’m pleased to say that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are investigating this practice – known as ‘drip pricing’. But this is just one example of unfair business practice, and much more needs to be done to reign in some of the more egregious airline behaviour. You can check the airline charges here (not everything is on the list though)

What do people think about airlines?

According to exclusive research from On the Beach the vast majority of holidaymakers believe that without regulatory action, flight prices will rise and service from low-cost airlines will get even worse in future.

What particularly troubles me is the fact that half of holidaymakers say airlines treat their customers badly because they can get away with it. A further three quarters of people felt regulators weren’t holding airlines accountable for their behaviour and want the CMA to formally investigate them.

When it comes to pricing, two-thirds of people thought that low-cost airlines were taking advantage of their customers with poor service and expensive pricing. And when it came to refunds, 56% of people felt that airlines weren’t playing fair when it came to refunds.

The research also revealed the percentage of people who had experienced the following problems:

Delayed flight 35%
Long queues and waiting times in airport 27%
High fees to add bag 25%
Changed flight times 20%
Poor customer service 17%
Cancelled flight 14%
Additional charges incurred post booking (e.g. airport check in charge, excess baggage) 14%
Delayed luggage 12%
High fees to amend flight 12%
Problems claiming compensation 8%
Problems getting a cash refund 7%
Lost luggage 7%
Difficulty understanding rights 6%

How to get involved

Many of the people I speak to are frustrated because even though they hate particular airlines, they feel that they have no choice but to use them because they are either the only realistic option at their nearest airport, or they have a virtual monopoly on certain routes.

This leaves the extraordinary scenario where people are forced on to flights with businesses that they can’t bear, because no-one is making airlines follow basic rules or provide good customer service and fair pricing.

I’ll be supporting this campaign over the coming months, and hopefully things will change things for the better. But if you want to get involved, you can send a free letter to your MP by clicking on the button on the page here.

In the meantime, if your airline is making your holiday a nightmare, then tell us all about it!

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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