Which? calls for new Transport Secretary to fix travel system after passengers endure airline chaos

Which? has requested an urgent meeting with the new Transport Secretary after sending her a damning dossier of nightmare passenger experiences from this year’s travel chaos.

The consumer champion has sent the new Secretary of State for Transport, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, 25 first-hand accounts of shocking treatment of travellers by airlines – just a small sample of hundreds of similar stories it has received in recent months.

More than 40,000 people have already given their backing to the consumer group’s petition to the Transport Secretary calling for travel reforms that put passengers first.

In a letter, Which? called on Ms Trevelyan to make it her top priority to press ahead with plans to give the aviation regulator stronger powers – including the ability to hit airlines with fines when they break the rules.

Which? is also urging the Transport Secretary not to reward airlines for failure by slashing rates of compensation due to passengers facing lengthy delays or last-minute cancellation of domestic flights. It is also imperative that travellers are no longer forced to turn to the small claims courts to seek the compensation and refunds they are legally owed – an issue which could be resolved with the introduction of a mandatory Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system, and the establishment of an aviation ombudsman.

The ONS has estimated that as many as one in three UK passengers suffered some form of disruption to their flight between June and the beginning of August. Four in five (80%) of those suffered a delay and a quarter suffered a cancellation (with some travellers facing both). With such significant numbers of people having faced disruption this summer, strong action is urgently needed.

Case studies included in the dossier sent to the Transport Secretary feature customers of many of the UK and Europe’s major airlines, including easyJet, British Airways, Tui, Flybe, WizzAir, Ryanair and Eurowings. Which? previously reported British Airways and easyJet to the Civil Aviation Authority over their handling of delays and cancellations in recent months, and though the CAA has written to the airlines to remind them of their obligations, no enforcement action has been taken.

58-year-old John from Cambridgeshire told Which? of his frustration after being “utterly abandoned” by his airline to find an alternative route home, after his late-night flight from Split to Luton airport was cancelled at short notice in July. He told Which? of his “desperation” as he and fellow passengers sought further information. He added: “An airport staff member came and said to those gathered (but it was hard to hear) ‘Wizz Air can’t do anything – you’re on your own’.”

He described scenes of chaos as passengers battled to rebook their own flights: “It was now around midnight. People were frustrated and many were crying. Every time I tried to book a flight someone beat me to it. I finally found one but it was three times more expensive than my original flight and included connections. I spent an agonising 28 hours in limbo at Split airport, all the while resenting having to pay the airport’s high prices for food.”

He eventually flew back to Birmingham, before facing the expense of a coach back to Luton to collect his car. Though Wizz Air offered him credits towards another flight, with the option to request a cash refund if he’d prefer, he was left as much as £500 out of pocket and was reluctant to spend more money on the airline’s fee-charging customer service lines as he attempted to get a satisfactory resolution. After being approached by Which?, WizzAir confirmed it would reimburse John’s costs.

Barbara, a teacher from South London, also shared her anger after a “long-awaited” trip to her home country of Macedonia was cancelled by Wizz Air as she waited to board. “The airport was pure chaos”, she told Which? “There were babies screaming, children sleeping on the ground. No one was available to help. We were left to find our luggage from piles discarded on the floor.”

Though the airline did offer her the option via email to rebook or be refunded, the next available seat wasn’t for another two weeks – and the option to be re-routed via another carrier was not offered, as it should have been. Barbara said she was particularly alarmed by the lack of support available for more vulnerable passengers. She offered her assistance to a pregnant woman travelling alone with three children, who was nearly denied boarding a bus with her buggy, that would have resulted in missing the last train of the night. She said: “The customer service was non-existent.”

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“We have received hundreds of testimonies from travellers this year who have been left high and dry by their airlines. From those abandoned in airports to seek emergency accommodation and alternative flights home, to those still chasing compensation months later, it is clear reforms in this sector are desperately needed.

“We are calling on the new Transport Secretary to act without delay and give the Civil Aviation Authority the powers it needs to fine airlines when they break the law and fail in their responsibility to passengers.

“The government should also drop its proposals to drastically cut the compensation passengers are owed by airlines when domestic flights are delayed or cancelled, which would effectively act as a reward for their failures this year  and potentially lead to even worse standards of service to passengers. It should also introduce a mandatory dispute resolution system, so travellers are no longer forced to pursue claims through the small claims court at their own expense.”

Notes to editors:

Which? is campaigning to Transform Travel. The consumer champion is calling for:  Enforcement – The CAA should be doing more by holding airlines to account proactively. It also needs direct powers to monitor and fine airlines when they flout the rules.

Resolution – We need a dispute resolution system that is mandatory for all airlines flying to and from the UK so travellers don’t have to go to the small claims court to enforce their rights.

Compensation – We need to protect passengers’ rights to redress when airlines are at fault for delays and cancellations. Proposals to slash pay-outs for domestic flights must be dropped.

At the time of writing, 42,834 people have signed the consumer champion’s petition to the Secretary of State for Transport: please find a link to view it here. 

Right of Replies: 


In response to John from Cambridgeshire’s case, WizzAir said: “Wizz Air apologises for the inconvenience caused by the cancellation of flight W97901 from Split to London Luton. Owing to exceedingly high temperatures which caused a surface defect on London Luton Airport’s runway, several inbound flights unfortunately had to be cancelled or rerouted. In line with EC261 regulation, Wizz Air confirms it will reimburse additional welfare costs, such as food and transportation. The customer service team will contact the passenger as a matter of priority to resolve his case.”

In response to Barbara from South London’s case, WizzAir said:

“Wizz Air apologises for the inconvenience this passenger experienced due to the cancellation of their flight. In the case of cancellations or delays that are longer than five hours, our customer service agents and call centres always advise customers to book flights with alternative airlines. We seek to deliver great customer experiences, and recognise that we fell short on this occasion.”


About Which? 

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful. The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at endorsementscheme@which.co.uk.

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