Top airline customer complaints
September 1, 2015
In its latest analysis of customer reviews, SKYTRAX has published the top airline customer complaints received from air travellers across the world. Topping the list of airline passenger complaints in 2015 are lost baggage, delayed flights and uncomfortable airline seats.
“Our website offers an independent customer review forum for airline and airport customers around the world, and it is important to note from a site summary perspective, we receive more favourable airline reviews than negative comments and airline complaints”, said Edward Plaisted of Skytrax. “This recent analysis focussed on the type of complaints we receive, and determining any change in trends or types of complaint that airline customers are lodging”.
The Top 10 Airline Customer complaints
1. LOST BAGGAGE
Lost baggage is regarded by many customers as a violation of their personal property, and causes major upset to many. The inconvenience of lost or misplaced luggage has to be experienced for other customers to fully understand. Skytrax are careful to moderate some lost baggage complaints where users claim to have placed every one of their personal valuables, money, jewellery, laptops, phone, tablets, urgent medications etc in the luggage that has been lost.
2. DELAYED FLIGHTS
This is variable in that some complaints relate to airlines where delays are a common feature (eg. domestic flights in China), or where customers are subjected to flight delays that have a subsequent impact on their associated travel, hotel plans. Very often, the complaint is that customers are not kept informed or updated by the airline. Airport staff may be reluctant to update customers, or the airline fails to use email, sms and social media to contact customers.
3. UNCOMFORTABLE SEATS
A common cause for complaint, almost evenly distributed between long haul and short haul airline seats. Whilst many airlines have introduced new slimline seats that use a smaller seat pitch and are supposed to offer equal or better “personal living space” for customers, this is a constant source of complaint. Another recent trend to add an extra seat per seat row on widebody aircraft continues to increase customer dissatisfaction. Even on shorter 1-3 hour narrowbody aircraft flights there is a growing number of complaints.
4. HIDDEN CHARGES / COSTS
The bulk of customers anger is aimed at low cost airlines that have additional charges for most aspects of the travel experience. Low cost airlines often have some of the most complicated ancillary fee rules, and it does rely upon the customer taking time to read all of this. How clearly this information is presented / made available varies between airlines, but there is a growing number of customers who don’t take time to research this before booking, and are penalised with extra fees at the airport. More legacy airlines (full service airlines and flag carriers) are expanding additional optional charges, and these are features that many customers expect to be part of the ticket price. Guaranteeing seats with your family or friends – expect to pay for that now. Upgrade your meal, premium alcohol, mid-flight snacks ; these are some of areas where extra charges may be applicable.
5. CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customer frustration trying to contact an airline before their trip to make changes, seeking assistance in the event of cancellations and flight delays, overcharging on a payment card. It also includes customers seeking assistance at the airport during flight delays. Time taken by some airlines to respond to customer complaints is a frequent problem, this ranging from 14 to 30 days. For the customer facing positions, customers complain of rude, disinterested, absent onboard service and poor language skills.
6. CABIN CLEANLINESS
Today’s airline customers seem to be much more aware about cleanliness and hygiene. With increased aircraft utilisation an important factor for airlines, shorter turnaround times often don’t allow sufficient time for thorough cleaning. Airlines in some parts of the world excel in this area, but there are numerous daily complaints about poor cabin condition, dirty aircraft and cleanliness of cabin washrooms being a prime source of angst.
Some airlines are reported to be very slow processing even the most straightforward refunds, many customers complain of their struggle to obtain refunds for services paid for, but not received. Pre-booked seats not honoured, priority boarding not properly enforced and enforced downgrades are a few examples where customers have difficulty getting their refunds, or feel they are not being properly compensated.
8. BOOKING TERMS & CONDITIONS
We see that amongst many customers there can be a lack of understanding for key booking terms and conditions. With a wide range of quite complex fare structures and booking codes used by airlines, this can be a potential minefield for passengers. One also has to navigate varying luggage allowance policies, ticket change charges, cancellations and associated monetary charges. The number 1 customer complaint is that many book a cheap fare without understanding the lack of ticket flexibility if something unexpected happens, such as illness or family bereavement.
9. AIRLINE MEALS
Most customer complaints about airline meals refers to special order meals; eg. vegetarian, gluten free, Halal, child meals etc. Prime discontent is when pre-ordered meals have not been loaded onto the flight, or they have been served to the wrong customer. Onboard catering is an area where airlines are never going to please all customers, and customers have quite high expectations of food quality, often from a meal with a source cost between US$5 and US$10 in economy class. Push up the unit cost for the premium cabins and customer expectations rise accordingly. Low cost airline buy-on-board products are frequently criticised as being poor value for money.
10. CHANGE OF AIRCRAFT
In recent years we have seen a trend for some customers specifically booking flights to fly an A380, Boeing 787 or A350, and being advised on flight check-in that for a variety of reasons, the aircraft type has been substituted. As more customers pay to pre-book their preferred seats online, they are similarly very dissatisfied to be told at check-in that an aircraft change means they have been re-seated, often in very inferior and different seats.