Ombudsman Services has this week been approved to take on complaints about airlines and to deliver legally binding decisions on gripes, but a scheme might not be ready for passengers to use until next spring.

UK aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), launched a consultation on the creation of an ombudsman-style scheme for airline passengers in February, something which fed into at the time (see the Airline ombudsman-style scheme set for launch next year MSE News story).

But this week Ombudsman Services, a free independent complaints arbitrator for the energy, telecoms, property and retail sectors, has become the first body to be approved by the CAA to take on gripes about the airline industry. See our How to Complain guide for help pushing your complaint to the max.

The key boon for passengers is that Ombudsman Services will have the power to force airlines to pay compensation for flight delays and cancellations. Currently, the CAA and other European regulators, which passengers complain to when they've had no luck with the airline itself, can't force airlines to pay up.

However, Ombudsman Services says it's still finalising exactly how the service will work, and couldn't tell us when it will be up and running. It's also not compulsory for airlines to sign up, meaning the service will only take off if airlines actually join it.

The CAA says it expects this ombudsman-style scheme to be widely available to passengers by spring 2016. It adds that Ombudsman Services is unlikely to be the only scheme it approves to take on airline complaints.

So does anything change for now?

No. The CAA will only stop its complaints service when a scheme, or more than one scheme, is set up which covers airlines that collectively carry at least 50% of passengers departing from or arriving in the UK.

The CAA will also continue to handle complaints related to disability and mobility issues for consumers flying with airlines not in a scheme.

So in the meantime, specifically regarding complaints about flight delays and cancellation, continue to complain to the airline in the first instance, and if that doesn't work, take your claim to either the aviation regulator in the relevant country or the European Consumer Centre.

For full help on whether or not you're eligible to claim, how to do so if you are, and our free complaints tool, see our Flight Delays and Cancellations guide.

Airline passengers to get ombudsman, but they may have to wait till spring to use it
Airline passengers to get ombudsman, but they may have to wait till spring

'We are experts in the sectors in which we operate'

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith says: "We are the UK's largest multi-sector provider of dispute resolution. We are experts in the sectors in which we operate so to obtain approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to bring our expertise into the aviation sector is fantastic news.

"Plus with extensive experience of working with regulated industries and professional bodies as well as many businesses throughout the UK it also endorses what we do and how we do it."