Budget airline Wizz Air has finished at the bottom of Which?’s annual survey of short-haul airlines, amidst a number of complaints from passengers about its poor customer service.
The consumer champion surveyed more than 8,000 travellers about their experiences of flying in the past two years, with passengers invited to rate their carriers on a range of criteria including customer service, value for money and boarding experience.
Overall, Wizz Air was the worst performing short haul airline in the consumer champion’s survey, receiving a dire customer score of 48 per cent. Travellers gave it merely one star out of five for boarding experience, as well as for cabin environment and seat comfort – unsurprising given the airline has some of the least generous legroom of the airlines Which? surveyed. The airline’s seat pitch, the distance between two rows in standard economy, is a full two inches smaller than even its budget rival Ryanair
Wizz Air achieved no higher than two stars in any of the remaining categories, including value for money and customer service. One unhappy customer reported their flight was “an unpleasant experience” and there were repeated complaints about delays. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data revealed the airline was among the worst offenders for punctuality last year, with just 56 per cent of flights arriving on time. Of the short haul airlines included in the survey, only Tui fared worse for punctuality, with less than half (45%) of its flights on time.
Wizz Air has expanded rapidly in recent years, but its growth has not come without disruption and uncertainty for passengers, with routes frequently paused or shelved altogether. Just last April it launched a number of new routes from Cardiff Airport, before announcing that most of these would be pulled from the market over the winter period – despite many customers having already booked. The CAA has also previously raised concerns about high volumes of complaints about the airline via the Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme and the courts.
Ryanair (52%), Eurowings (53%), British Airways (56%) and Lufthansa (57%) finished just ahead of Wizz Air.
Ryanair received a clutch of one and two star scores, including just one star for boarding experience, seat comfort, food and drink and cabin environment, with one respondent summing up their experience as “just awful”. Customers did however report more favourably on both customer service and the value for money offered, awarding three stars in each of these categories, with passengers praising the “good, competitive pricing”. The airline was also notably more reliable than the overall survey average, with just 0.5% of its flights cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice – something it had in common with some of the highest-rated airlines. It did however perform less well on punctuality, with just 65 per cent of flights arriving on time.
Flag carrier British Airways, once considered among the country’s premium airlines, was widely panned by survey respondents, with one traveller remarking they felt their experience was “a race to the bottom, providing as little as possible and making cattle class sound like something better.” The airline scored only two stars for boarding, seat comfort and value for money, and no more than three stars in any other category. 2.3 per cent of its flights were cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice, making it among the least reliable airlines surveyed.
The worst offender for last-minute cancellations was Eurowings, which cancelled 3.4 per cent of its flights within twenty-four hours of departure, followed by Flybe (3.1%), now in administration, and Guernsey-based Aurigny Air Service, which despite rating highly on punctuality, suffered a number of cancellations last year, in part due to bad weather on its remote Alderney route (3%).
Jet2.com emerged at the top of the short haul airline table, with a customer score of 80%, and once again achieved Which? Recommended Provider status. Travellers awarded it an impressive five stars for customer service, with multiple customers praising the helpful and friendly staff. One remarked that the airline “excelled in all areas of customer support”, while another claimed it is “the best airline by a country mile”.
The airline achieved four stars for value for money, cabin cleanliness, and boarding, dropping to three stars only on seat comfort and its food and drink offering. It was also among the best performing airlines on last-minute cancellations, with only 0.5% of its flights cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice.
Norwegian Airlines was the only other carrier to achieve the coveted Which? Recommended Provider badge in short-haul, as high-scoring Turkish Airlines and Finnair were rejected for having terms and conditions which allow them to cancel passengers’ return journeys if they miss their outbound flight through no fault of their own. Norwegian achieved a customer score of 74 per cent, and performed well above average on both cancellations and delays, with an impressive 80 per cent of its flights on time last year, and just 0.6% cancelled at short notice.
The aviation industry has witnessed widespread disruption since the pandemic, and as many as one in three passengers surveyed reported that they suffered an issue with their most recent flight, such as a delay or cancellation. In the face of recent chaos, some airlines have become emboldened to treat passengers badly, with an absence of adequate customer service a common theme of this year’s survey.
Even when airlines disregard consumer rights, they rarely face meaningful action. This is why Which? is campaigning for the government to urgently give the Civil Aviation Authority the teeth it needs to effectively monitor compliance and take airlines to task when they break the law. The government must also ensure it delivers effective reforms to consumer protections for passengers that boost consumer confidence in this sector.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“Travellers have had a torrid time in recent years, with last-minute delays and cancellations an unacceptably common occurrence. While airlines like Jet2.com have distinguished themselves by offering flyers excellent customer care and a reliable service, too many of their competitors continually fail to measure up.”
“If alternative carriers are available for your route, avoid Wizz Air, as its poor record on customer care means you’re likely to be left high and dry in the event your flight is delayed or cancelled.”
Notes to editors:
Which? is currently campaigning to Transform Travel, and at the time of writing, over 43,000 people have signed the consumer champion’s petition to the Secretary of State for Transport demanding urgent action and over 1,100 campaign supporters have submitted evidence to the ongoing review of the CAA. Please find a link to view the petition here.
You can find Which?’s submission to the Department for Transport’s call for evidence on the effectiveness and efficiency of the CAA HERE.
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
- In October 2022, Which? surveyed 8,046 adults about their experiences of flying in the previous two years (October 2020 – October 2022.). Fieldwork was carried out online with the Which? Connect panel and members of the public. A customer score was calculated from a combination of travellers’ overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend.
- On time flights are defined as those arriving into the UK within 15 minutes of time due, according to the CAA (Oct 2021 to Sept 2022). Last-minute cancellations are defined as scheduled flights cancelled within 24 hours of scheduled departure, over the same period. Where airlines have both UK and EU subsidiaries the results for both are combined.
- Seat pitch is the distance between two rows in standard economy (measure of legroom). Higher legroom seats may incur a fee.
Full table of results below:
Use of table – If including table or parts of publication, please link back to the full online results which can be found here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/airlines/article/best-and-worst-airlines-a5EhC8N851et
Right of replies:
A WizzAir spokesperson said: “At Wizz Air, we do everything possible to ensure that passengers reach their destination on time and with minimal delay. We invest heavily into time performance, which is key to our ultra-efficient business model. A number of issues affecting the global aviation industry contributed to a worse time performance in 2022. These issues resulted from a widespread shortage in staff, in particular within air traffic control, ground operations and baggage handling, security and across airports. We are committed to constantly reviewing processes to mitigate these issues and are seeing an overall improvement in the on-time performance of our routes.
Wizz Air operates a fleet of brand new, state-of-the-art Airbus aircraft, with an average age of 4.6 years, which offer passengers comfort, space, and modern interiors. The A321neo features the widest single-aisle cabin configuration with 239 18-inch-wide seats. Every aircraft is cleaned after each flight and deep cleaned every night. The onboard menu is reviewed and updated on a bi-monthly basis and, following customer feedback, a local products range was recently introduced on all Wizz Air UK flights. We welcome all customer feedback, so that we can continuously refine our processes to further enhance customer experience. ”
A British Airways Spokesperson said: “We don’t feel this small survey, conducted during one of the most challenging periods in global aviation, accurately represents the views of the tens of millions of customers who’ve chosen to fly with us over the same period. While we don’t claim to get everything right every time, we continue to be recognised for the service we offer, recently winning Best Airline 2022 at the News UK Travel Awards and nine Business Traveller Awards over the past two years. Our customers tell us they appreciate being able to choose from a range of cabins, flying to and from central airports at convenient times of the day, plus our investment in new aircraft, new seating, WiFi, new menus, the complimentary snacks and water we offer in our short-haul economy cabin, and the most generous hand baggage allowance of any UK airline.”
A Tui Spokesperson said: “At TUI, we are privileged to fly millions of customers around the globe on holidays each year, providing them with memorable holidays and experiences. This Which? survey once again only speaks to less than one per cent of our customers, and therefore cannot be used as an accurate reflection. The vast majority of our flights operate as planned, but unfortunately on rare occasions, delays can occur due to a number of factors which are usually outside our control.”
Aurigny’s Head of Communications Kay Leslie comments: “The headline data used in these findings fails to note that the airline’s reported cancellation rate is specifically impacted by medevac flights being performed on one route, with this one route accounting for 62.9% of cancellations during the period in question. The airline notes that, outside of this one route, the UK CAA data indicates the airline’s cancellation rate is 1.4 per cent, not within the bottom three in any given month and one of the lowest amongst domestic carriers. The UK CAA data, which is publicly available, also confirms that Aurigny had the best punctuality rate of 83% amongst the 10 Domestic UK carriers – a position it occupied for seven out of 12 months.”
Ryanair did not reply to a request for comment.
Eurowings did not reply to a request for comment.
Administrators for Flybe declined to comment.
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.