Provisions of a proposed air passenger charter may need to be mandatory to be fully effective, the UK competition watchdog has warned.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) called on the government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to consider publishing key metrics of satisfaction with airlines and airports, including on complaint resolution.
“While many airlines may be willing to adopt and adhere to the charter on a voluntary basis, some might not,” the authority cautioned.
“There is therefore a significant risk that passengers will continue to have bad experiences in air travel.”
The concerns were raised in CMA’s response to the Department for Transport’s future of aviation 2050 Green Paper.
“We support the proposed passenger charter designed to improve the passenger experience,” a spokesman said.
“However, in some places we think the government should go further.
“For example, making some parts of the charter mandatory will ensure all passengers have the same protections regardless of who they fly with and from which airport.
“Government should work with airlines and passenger groups to ensure that the charter is able to improve the passenger experience while avoiding undue burdens on business which may either be passed on to passengers or result in non-compliance.
“A performance framework may encourage compliance. The use of KPIs and reporting of relative performance may be one way of encouraging adoption by airlines and airports.”
The CMA added that passengers should be able to book flights with confidence and find the best one for their needs.
“Regardless of how a flight is booked, passengers should be able to anticipate the total cost of a flight, what service they will receive for the price they pay, with any significant restrictions presented clearly upfront,” the response said.
“Passengers are now able to book flights through several channels, be it in a bricks and mortar travel agency, direct on an airline’s website or phone line or via a third-party online aggregator.
“In our market study on Digital Comparison Tools (DCTs) we noted the role of OTAs and metasearch (MSE) websites and apps in helping passengers identify flights that meet their needs and to some extent compare their relative price and convenience.
“The growth of ‘budget’ airlines over the last 25 years has coincided with an increasing tendency for some airlines to unbundle aspects of a flight which have previously all been included in the headline price.
“Examples of this might be allocated seating, checked-in luggage allowances and refreshments. As a result, comparison of flights is more difficult.
“DCTs such as OTAs and MSEs can help passengers find flights but in many cases may not be able to provide like-for-like comparisons without detailed further comparison.
“We recommend that the government and the CAA work with airlines and aggregators to identify common complaints and how to ensure that information is presented appropriately to increase the likelihood that passengers will engage with important information and avoid unpleasant surprises.”
The CMA’s response also discusses aspects of the Green Paper which may affect competition and consumers, including recommendations on the allocation of slots.
“We think there is a strong case for government to use the opportunities it has to promote competition between airlines for these slots, which will mean benefits for passengers, businesses and the wider economy,” the spokesman said.
“For example, giving more airlines the chance to offer flights by reforming how slots are allocated could lead to passengers having a greater choice of airlines when they fly, which may lead to lower fares, better service and better value.
“This will be of particular significance when new capacity from a new runway at Heathrow is released.
“Our response also touches on areas associated with airports and air travel that can often lead to negative passenger experiences, from booking to landing.
“We’ve identified examples of the potential ‘hassle’ of flying such as taxi travel to and from the airport, cost of Wi-Fi, food and drink.”
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