Passengers flying with Ryanair will soon be able to get a legally-binding decision on gripes such as flight delay and cancellation claims, as the budget airline has become the first to sign up to the Ombudsman Services' airline complaints arbitration scheme.

Under EU rules, travellers delayed by at least three hours or whose flights are cancelled can, in certain circumstances, claim up to €600 (about £420) per person, unless the delay is outside the airline's control.

Up until now, if you have no luck in the first instance complaining to the airline involved, you have to take your case to the relevant aviation regulator, such as the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). But the problem with this is regulators don't have the same powers as ombudsman schemes, meaning they can't force airlines to pay out.

But it's been revealed today that Ryanair passengers will soon be able to take gripes about the airline to the Ombudsman Services to adjudicate on for free.

It's a boon for these customers, particularly as the airline currently faces legal action after the CAA found it guilty of wrongly rejecting flight delay and cancellation claims (see the Ryanair faces legal action MSE News story for more on this).

However, you can't use the service to complain about Ryanair yet, although it's expected to be up and running by spring 2016.

So does anything change for now?

No. The CAA says it expects ombudsman-style schemes to be widely available to passengers by spring 2016, and adds that the Ombudsman Services is unlikely to be the only scheme it approves to take on airline complaints.

Although it's not compulsory for airlines to sign up to such schemes, meaning the initiative will only take off if airlines actually join them.

In the meantime, specifically regarding complaints about flight delays and cancellations, 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.

Ryanair passengers to be able to complain to Ombudsman Services
Ryanair passengers to be able to complain to Ombudsman Services

Why has an ombudsman for airlines been set up?

The CAA first 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).

The move came after the European Union said there should be independent complaints handling services available to customers of all kinds of services, including airlines.

In October, it was revealed that the Ombudsman Services, a free independent complaints arbitrator for the energy, telecoms, property and retail sectors, had become the first body to be approved by the CAA to take on gripes about the airline industry.

The plan is for the CAA to stop its own complaints service when an ombudsman-style 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 however continue to handle complaints related to disability and mobility issues for consumers flying with airlines not in a scheme.