Airports and Passenger Interests.

By | Category: Travel rumblings

What is the purpose of an airport regulator?
To make money? To manage the interests of our airports? Or the airlines? To control over-zealous ideas and practices? To make sure passengers fly safely?
I sometimes wonder.
Yesterday the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, announced that he was giving additional powers to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) so that it can “apply competition law in respect of airport operators and providers of airport services.” What this means, I think, is that the powers we thought they had are being given to them. Or which we believed were being handled by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Anyway it looks like the CAA has a bit more power. But this time the power is to look out for the passenger. Hammond said, “…the CAA’s primary duty will be to promote the interests of existing and future passengers.”
Since they haven’t been renowned for putting us travellers first, or sometimes even second, one can only hope that they will do something this time and be seen to do something. The CAA regulates the package holidays bonding scheme which we know as ATOL. See an ATOL bond and, in a time of collapse, you should be assured of getting your money back. But this doesn’t apply to airline passengers just flying from A to B without accommodation. It doesn’t apply if the company isn’t ATOL bonded.
There have been calls for the last couple of years to widen the bonding and travellers accept that they would have to pay a pound or two extra for this insurance. (After all package holidaymakers pay a levy of £2.50 per passenger.) Instead of saying there is a European solution being considered (true but I might get my pension first), it would be great step forward if the CAA acted unilaterally and offered us travellers wider protection.
Hammond also said that “significant investment will be required if passengers’ expectations are to be met.” Well what are our expectations? He says things like better baggage handling. I say how about having the Air Transport Users Council (AUC) complaints/help line being open for longer than a five hours a day on just Monday to Thursday. Has no-one told them that Saturday is still just about the busiest day of the week for leisure passengers? But then we’ve only known that for 30 years or so. Hammond also said that the Passenger Focus (the consumer watchdog for trains, buses and coaches) will not now take over the responsibilities of the AUC. So this body that has managed just one press release this year, seven responses to consultations and no response, that I can see, to the March 2009 CAA report on Passenger Experience at our four biggest airports will continue. The same report also noted that half of the respondents to a survey were unaware of their rights and even fewer were aware of the AUC. So if passengers are to be put first, it would help if passengers knew who could help them.
Lots of words. I’ll be less cynical when I see action.

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