Which? is urging the government to prioritise legislation giving the CAA fining powers as it finds airlines are running up millions of pounds in County Court Judgments (CCJs) and adjudication rulings, amid an avalanche of claims from passengers
The consumer champion analysed complaints data from the CAA for the 12 months up to March 2023, and obtained the latest court data from the Registry Trust. Of the six airlines Which? looked at, five were collectively ordered to pay an astonishing £11,461,101 by courts and adjudicators, the bulk of which likely result from passenger claims for unpaid expenses, refunds and compensation.
The consumer champion believes that these alarming figures highlight a serious, systemic problem in the aviation industry, whereby a combination of weak regulation and a patchy dispute resolution system means airlines feel emboldened to disregard passenger rights.
Which? is urging the Prime Minister to commit to legislation to give the Civil Aviation Authority direct fining powers in this year’s King Speech, and put an end to an ongoing cycle of poor behaviour by airlines who know they can bend the rules without fear of penalty.
Which? first sounded the alarm about mounting numbers of claims in March this year, when it found ‘outstanding’ CCJs collectively worth more than £4.5 million had piled up against the same airlines. At that time budget carrier Wizz Air accounted for almost half the total amount, despite carrying fewer passengers than most of its rivals.
The CAA went on to take enforcement action against the airline, expressing concerns not only about the high number of ‘outstanding’ CCJs, but a broader pattern of customer complaints – with more than 8,000 made to the official adjudicator in 2022. By the end of September, the airline was required to contact all customers with an eligible expenses claim for flights on or after 18 March 2022.
While CCJs offer just a small window into a bigger picture (escalating claims to small claims court is usually a last resort), Which?’s latest analysis has found that since March the number of ‘outstanding’ CCJs against Wizz Air only continued to rise – increasing from 1,601 in March to 2,587 at the start of October. Wizz Air claims there are 2,641 judgments against it in its own records, and that it has dealt with 86 per cent of these, with the records incorrectly classifying them as unpaid. While the CAA is not responsible for the enforcement of CCJs, it told Which? that it has seen a significant reduction in complaints from the public about unpaid CCJs against Wizz Air.
Trust Online, the official register of court judgments, previously told Which? that: ‘Even when a judgment is paid, the judgment will continue to show as ‘unsatisfied’ until the court records are updated.’ It said defendants – airlines in this case – are responsible for providing updates about the payment status of CCJs.
Tui is the only other airline that Which? looked at to have seen its ‘outstanding’ CCJ records rise in that time, with the figure more than quadrupling since March, when the records showed 313 ‘outstanding’ CCJs. The figure stood at 1,359 at the beginning of October, with a total value of £1,558,145.
Many more millions of pounds have been paid to passengers through adjudication schemes – of which there are three for air passengers in the UK. Worryingly however, Which? analysis of CAA complaints data reveals that outcomes can be markedly different for consumers and airlines, depending on which scheme is used.The contrast between results for British Airways and Ryanair customers is a prime example. BA uses an adjudication scheme called CEDR, while Ryanair uses AviationADR.
In 2022, AviationADR received over 12,000 complaints about Ryanair, almost double the number that CEDR received about BA. Yet BA paid out nearly ten times as much to passengers – over £3 million in total.
This is partly because AviationADR has adjudicated far fewer claims. It ruled on just over 4,000 Ryanair cases in a period where it received more than triple that amount. In contrast, CEDR adjudicated on almost five thousand BA complaints in a period where it received fewer than seven thousand.
While it might be expected that BA claim amounts are higher in some cases, as it runs long-haul routes, and it’s possible that those making a claim to CEDR were more confident at the outset about the validity of their claim, as they have to pay a £25 fee, that alone doesn’t account for the huge discrepancy.
In fact, of those cases that were adjudicated on, CEDR found in favour of passengers in 76 per cent of BA cases, while AviationADR found in favour of Ryanair customers just 15 per cent of the time.
It’s notable that AviationADR now finds in favour of passengers less often than it did in the past. In 2017, shortly after the scheme started, across all airlines AviationADR’s uphold rate was 69 per cent.
However, when Which? questioned this, AviationADR said that the fact it now overwhelmingly rules in favour of some airlines is a sign that the scheme is working. It even suggested that the reason Ryanair and others have been successful defending claims is because those airlines have ‘engaged the services of leading city law firms to filter cases before they reach ADR.’
It said that this has resulted in a positive result for passengers – because those airlines are now paying out to passengers without any need to go to adjudication. However, Which? has investigated AviationADR cases where it seems that the adjudicator got the decision wrong.
In March one passenger, Mattia Zenere, ultimately got compensation from Wizz – despite AviationADR initially defending its decision that he wasn’t entitled to it.
Which? believes that as well as stronger powers for the regulator, the aviation industry needs an independent, mandatory ombudsman to ensure that outcomes are fair and consistent for all passengers.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“The scale of court judgments and adjudication decisions piling up against major airlines shows how urgently reform is needed. The cycle of poor treatment of passengers and no serious consequences is only likely to continue without intervention.
“Consumers need an aviation regulator with effective powers – including the ability to fine operators – and a mandatory ombudsman to ensure airlines are held to account when they break the law and that passenger complaints are dealt with fairly.
“The Prime Minister must take the opportunity this autumn to show that he is on the side of passengers, and commit to legislation to give the CAA direct fining powers in the King’s Speech. The CAA must also be transparent about the outcome of its ongoing enforcement action against Wizz Air. “
Notes to editors:
‘Outstanding’ court judgments by airline
|Airline||Number of ‘outstanding’ county court judgments||Value of ‘outstanding’ county court judgements|
Figures are for county court judgments that were still listed as ‘outstanding’ on 28 September on Registry Trust – the official register of judgments. *Wizz Air told us the current figure is 2641, as of 2 Oct. The airlines told us they have paid in most cases, but they’ve not yet changed the data on the register from ‘outstanding’ to ‘satisfied’.
Adjudication schemes for passengers – 2022
|Airline||Adjudicator||Complaints received||Complaints adjudicated||Total ordered to pay||Percentage in favour of passenger|
Figures provided by CAA for Q2 2022 to Q1 2023.
- Which? previously carried out an investigation into CCJs against airlines in March this year. Please find more details of this, and Mattias Zenere’s case, here: https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/which-calls-for-urgent-intervention-as-airlines-rack-up-millions-in-court-judgments/
- In August, we wrote a letter to the PM co-signed by ten leading travel businesses, calling for a commitment to legislation to give the CAA direct fining powers in the King’s Speech. See more here:https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/amid-another-summer-of-travel-disruption-which-calls-on-pm-to-put-stronger-powers-for-aviation-regulator-in-upcoming-kings-speech/
Rights of Reply
A Wizz Air spokesperson said: “There has been a large backlog of County Court Judgements which has carried over from previous years. We have made significant progress in the processing of outstanding County Court Judgements. There are currently 2641 claims in the file. A significant percentage of these (86%) have been handled but classified incorrectly on the court register. We are currently working with the relevant parties to get this updated, but unfortunately this takes time.
“We are making every effort to finalise the remaining CCJs and to ensure the online court records are updated to reflect the reality. In addition, Wizz Air remains fully compliant with industry regulations and continues to cooperate with AviationADR to always provide the necessary evidence and ensure the best outcome for passengers and cooperate with AviationADR.
“Wizz Air has been dealing with all of its claims in accordance with the timings agreed with the Civil Aviation Authority and as outlined on the Wizz website. As part of this agreement, Wizz Air committed to re-look at welfare claims it received following flight disruptions. We agreed to contact passengers eligible for a payment by 29th September, which has been adhered to. All customers who we believe to be eligible, have been contacted.
“We have made several changes to our processes and integrated new digital solutions to enable us to process claims more quickly and provide the best-possible service to our valued customers. This includes automated claims processing and increased provision of customer service representatives. To ensure a speedy resolution for customers moving forward, we aim to resolve all customer claims within 30 days, make 120% WIZZ credit refunds within 24 hours and process 100% ticket refunds within 7 working days.”
A Tui spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on cases that are with our legal team. However, we are aware of a large number of cases which are marked as ‘unsatisfied’ in the report, which have actually been resolved and proof of payment will be provided to the courts to have their status corrected.”
AviationADR response: “In the period associated with the latest data released by the CAA, 96% of cases lodged with AviationADR were processed within the timeframes set out by the CAA and ADR Regulations. AviationADR does not have a significant backlog and is not struggling to get through cases. It is important to put the data published by the CAA into context and to fully understand the source and meaning behind the data
“The CAA data reports on ‘open’ cases. These are not necessarily cases waiting for an adjudication, but instead is the entire pipeline of cases ranging from cases filed and awaiting initial assessment as to whether they can be accepted in ADR, cases waiting for the passenger to provide information before the claim can proceed, cases waiting for the airline to provide a response, cases being investigated by AviationADR, cases waiting for an adjudication to be issued and cases where the airline has not yet paid compensation awarded. In addition, 16,281 of the open cases reported in the CAA data you refer to, had been completed as at the date of the data capture but had not been ‘closed’ on the system.
“A meaningful comparison on uphold rates cannot be made between CEDR, PACT and AviationADR, as each scheme deals with different airlines. Over the past few years Ryanair, easyJet and TUI have engaged the services of leading city law firms to filter cases before they reach AviationADR, ultimately meaning these airlines accept liability and pay out on cases where they accept, they clearly need to, prior to ADR. In this respect, it is clear that ADR has made a positive impact in the aviation sector as year on year many of the airlines are increasing the percentage of passenger claims they accept pre-ADR and as a consequence ADR uphold rates have reduced, as the airlines chose to only defend cases, they believe are defendable. This should be hailed as a success, reporting this in any other light is misleading.
“The AviationADR software identifies associated cases providing adjudicators with sight of previous decisions. We do not comment on individual cases but will now carry out a review of the case you have identified.”
British Airways did not respond to a request for comment.
Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment.
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