If your flight's delayed and the airline refuses you compensation, you're now more likely to be able to appeal to an ombudsman-style scheme with binding powers, after a raft of airlines including Easyjet and Flybe became the latest to sign up to an official adjudication process. But it's not all good news – some passengers will now have to pay a £25 fee if their appeal is unsuccessful.
Regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced that a total of 20 airlines have now signed up to approved 'Alternative Dispute Resolution' (ADR) bodies.
Easyjet registered with the scheme run by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) on 1 August, while competitors Eurowings, Germania, Germanwings, Lufthansa and Swiss signed up with a different, German scheme called Söp.
Air Canada and its subsidiary Air Canada Rouge joined the Retail Ombudsman scheme on 8 August, with Flybe joining the same scheme on 15 August.
A further 12 airlines, including Ryanair and British Airways, have signed up to ADR schemes, which provide passengers dissatisfied with the way their airline has handled their complaint with a legally-binding decision ruling.
See our Flight Delays Compensation guide for how to claim up to £460/person back to 2010, and our free reclaim tool.
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How many ADR schemes are there, and how do they differ?
Four schemes currently have CAA approval – CEDR, the Retail Ombudsman, Söp and NetNeutrals (although NetNeutrals has yet to sign up any airlines to its scheme). The CEDR is currently the only one which charges a fee to unsuccessful claimants.
The CAA-approved schemes cover the following airlines:
CEDR – British Airways, Easyjet, Thomas Cook and Thomson. You can submit your complaint here. If your claim's unsuccessful you'll have to pay a £25 fee, but if you're awarded any compensation this fee will be waived.
The Retail Ombudsman – Air Astana, Asiana Airlines, Air Canada (and Air Canada Rouge), Egypt Air, Flybe, Ryanair, Skyworks Airlines AG, South African Airways, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines and Wizz Air. You can submit your complaint here – there's no fee if your claim's unsuccessful.
- Söp – Eurowings, Germania, Germanwings, Lufthansa and Swiss. You can submit your complaint here – there's no fee if your claim's unsuccessful.
The CAA says it's approved the four schemes because they provide a "high standard of dispute resolution for consumer disputes stemming from a contract for aviation services".
If your airline is signed up to a CAA-approved ADR scheme, you'll have to approach that scheme rather than the CAA itself with your complaint.
Aside from these four, there are further ADR schemes approved by other EU states, rather than the CAA. If your airline belongs to a non CAA-approved scheme, you can still approach that scheme for a decision – or, if you prefer, you can approach the CAA itself (though its ruling won't be legally binding).
To complain directly to the CAA, follow the guidance on its website.
What types of complaint do ADR schemes handle?
You can approach your airline's ADR scheme for a ruling on the following types of complaint:
- Denied boarding, delay, or cancellation.
- Destruction, damage, loss, or delayed transportation of baggage.
- Destruction, damage, or loss of items worn or carried by the passenger.
- Problems faced by disabled passengers or passengers with reduced mobility.
- When a passenger feels they've been treated unfairly, misled or believes they've been harmed by a breach of consumer protection law.
How do I use an ADR scheme to make a complaint?
Complaints should first be made to the airline. But if you're not happy with the outcome, you can escalate it to an ADR scheme, if the airline's a member of one. You should be sent information on whether an ADR scheme is available in an airline's final response to your complaint.
If you've not received a final response from the airline within eight weeks of lodging the complaint, you may also be able to refer your complaint to the relevant ADR body directly. You can find out if your airline belongs to an ADR scheme on the CAA website.
How effective are these schemes at resolving complaints?
It's too early to say, as the first airline to sign up to one (Thomson) only did so in January, with the other 19 all joining between June and August.
We'll be keeping an eye on how consumers fare when using these schemes, and if you want to share your ADR experience with us please get in touch.
What does the CAA say?
CAA policy director Tim Johnson says: "Our research shows 45% of air passengers that complained to their airline, airport or holiday company after experiencing a travel problem were dissatisfied with the outcome and almost six in 10 were not satisfied with the redress provided. So clearly passengers expect more when they make a complaint about air travel.
"If passengers don't get a satisfactory outcome to their complaint from their airline, using an approved ADR provider gives them a simple way to get a prompt, fair and binding decision on their dispute – meaning they don't have to resort to court action.
"We believe this is a major step forward for passengers and are pleased to see a large number of airlines have signed up to ADR and are already giving their passengers this option. But we will continue to push for more airlines to sign up to ADR, so as many passengers as possible have access to efficient and effective dispute resolution if anything goes wrong with their flight to or from the UK."
This story was updated on 16 August 2016 after Flybe signed up to the Retail Ombudsman ADR scheme, taking the total number of participating airlines to 20.