Airline regulator goes hush-hush – Does it want opinions or not?
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s airline regulator, recently launched a consultation. But decided not to tell anyone about it…
On 17 July 2020 The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a consultation on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which closed on 25 September 2020. The ADR process is meant to ensure that passengers have a place to go to arbitrate in cases where the airline and consumer are in dispute.
Yet, despite launching the consultation, it seems that the CAA decided not to publicise it nor to seek input from the most important stakeholders, airline passengers!
The CAA says that they would only consult with CEDR and AviationADR, the two existing providers of ADR for UK airlines.
“We would not typically consult airlines or airports as they are not the regulated entities in this situation”, says the CAA website. “However, given the interest expressed by a number of airlines in the proposed changes, in this case we have decided to extend the consultation to include airlines and airports.”
It is clear from this statement that they don’t see it, nor did they market it as, a public consultation. There is no reference to the consultation in their social media feed at all and no press release was sent out.
Airlines have their say… or not?
British Airways, a member of the CEDR scheme, did not want to make a statement regarding the consultation or Which?’s call for a single Ombudsman instead of AviationADR and CEDR.
A spokesperson for Ryanair, which was previously a member of AviationADR and is no longer a member of any scheme, said:
“These claims are completely baseless and this is nothing more than yet another cheap publicity stunt by Which? There are no Aviation ADR claims outstanding and Ryanair meets all of its obligations relating to EU261. In the small number of cases where claims are rejected we refer passengers to the CAA’s Passenger Advice Complaints Team (PACT) or the European Commission’s Online Dispute Resolution (ECODR) service”
Passenger refund shame
There has been widespread condemnation of airlines not providing refunds for flight cancellations during the pandemic. There has been equal criticism of the CAA for not doing enough to hold airlines to account too. A new chairman, Stephen Hillier, started on 1 August 2020 and appears so far to have done nothing to improve the situation.
Whom did the CAA consult?
The question as to whether consumer champions, individuals and organisations were consulted remains unanswered. But it is known that bizarrely the Ombudsman Association (OA) was not notified. Despite being the professional organisation for ombudsman schemes and complaint handlers, their staff and others interested in the work of independent complaint resolution were not notified. One would expect that such an organisation would have been consulted about best practices in complaint handling by ADR providers.
The OA was identified as having higher approval criteria standards than the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Both of these approve ADR providers. This was outlined in the Ombudsman Omnishambles report in 2016 and in More Ombudsman Omnishambles, published 20 months later, which revealed serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ADR sector in the UK. The CAA was amongst those highlighted as failing consumers in this report.
Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, consumer champion and co-author with Marcus Williamson of the investigation reports, is not surprised by the latest revelation. “The CAA’s approach to consultation is flawed and blinkered. It’s almost as if they don’t want to hear the changes and recommendations from the people who are best qualified to suggest improvements, the passengers themselves!”
Current ADR providers in aviation
Currently there are two ADR providers in the UK, CEDR and AviationADR. Membership of an ADR body is still not a legal requirement for UK-based airlines.
The OA joins Which? and other consumer champions in the call for a single robust dispute resolution service in the airline sector. Which? believes that the ADR provider should be an ombudsman.
Donal Galligan, CEO of the OA, said:
“There are numerous examples from various sectors that what works best for both consumers and driving improvements in an industry is a single mandatory ombudsman. The evidence that Which? have collated clearly shows that the CAA’s experiment with non-mandatory, multiple providers, some of which charge a fee to access that service, has not delivered for either consumers or the aviation industry. It is time that the UK Government mirrored their own approach in rail, energy, and new homes, and drive the establishment of a single mandatory aviation ombudsman.”
When things do go wrong with travel it can be highly disruptive for passengers, regardless of the mode of transport.
The Rail Ombudsman
The Rail Ombudsman, which was also another stakeholder not informed about the consultation, is the only approved Ombudsman operating in the travel sector. It was established in 2018 and has operated to the satisfaction of passengers, industry and other stakeholders since. Their remit is underpinned by the regulator which means that passengers can rely on its decisions if things go wrong.
Kevin Grix, Chief Ombudsman at The Rail Ombudsman, said “As an Ombudsman we have a wealth of knowledge and understanding and we would be pleased to share our views and recommendations with colleagues at the CAA to help cure any defects with the system”.
Lack of comment from CAA or Department for Transport
The CAA were asked to comment but failed to respond by the deadline given.
The Department for Transport were asked to comment but refused, passing the request onto the CAA.
Consumer campaigners comment
Which? has said that
“The government must ensure that passengers’ needs are front and centre in its aviation recovery plan, starting with the introduction of a mandatory, single ombudsman scheme for airlines, as a first step to restoring trust in the sector.”
Dewdney agrees, saying that “The new CAA Chairman should be taking a much stronger lead and ensure that the mess that is the current ADR provision is fit for purpose. Problems and failings with ADR providers and the monitoring and regulation have been highlighted for more than three years, so overhaul is long overdue.”
CAA acknowledge error in consultation
Update 08 October 2020. Later today when the article was published the CAA sent this statement ” We were recently made aware that, due to an IT error, a small number of interested parties had not received an email alert about this consultation going live and therefore had not responded when the consultation closed.
Given the importance of this matter, the Civil Aviation Authority will be reopening the consultation for a six week period from Friday 9 October 2020 in order to allow for further responses to be considered as we continue to improve the ADR service for consumers.” This statement was in response to my sending a link to this article and not to the request made a week previous. I do not call every Ombudsman in the country, consumer champions and the general public a “small number”!
Update 09 October 2020. The consultation is on the website with the deadline extended but they still haven’t informed stakeholders. No press release, no emails, nothing on social media. Weird right?
 CEDR is the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution which provides conflict management, ADR, mediation and training. It is a not for profit charity.
 AviationADR is part of Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited, owned by Dean Dunham, who was identified as a provider of concern in the Ombudsman Omnishambles and the More Ombudsman Omnishambles investigation reports.
Thursday 8 October 2020 is International Ombudsman Day, which aims to improve the awareness and educate the public about the history and practices of ombudsmen.
My response to the CAA consultation
1) There should be a single redress scheme which should be an Ombudsman as it has higher standards as demonstrated in the report More Ombudsman Omnishambles, see in particular the Ombudsman Association's minutes on cancelling the Retail Ombudsman's membership who has been allowed to continue as an ADR provider. 2) There is already an Ombudsman in the travel sector and it would therefore be sensible for airlines to have an Ombudsman 3) There are a number of issues with one of the providers as detailed in the Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles reports and I refer you to those recommendations 4) There is no annual fee for ongoing approval in any other ADR scheme as the CTSI does not charge it is difficult to understand why the CAA should be charging 5) There should be no extension to time allowed to deal with complex issues. 90 days is more than long enough and a well established and experienced provider would be able able to ensure that systems are in place to manage this. An ADR scheme should be fair to bother parties and extending this time is swayed in the airline's favour.