The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has explained to the Department for Transport that civil sanctions should be made available to the CAA.
Following last week's interview with Sandra Webber, Director of Consumer Support at the Civil Aviation Authority, Reduced Mobility Rights interviewed management at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland to learn about their experience as complaint handling body for Northern Ireland for disabled passengers.
Q. The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has been handling complaints on behalf of disabled passengers since 2008. How could you summarize the history accrued during this time?
A. Since Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 came into force the Consumer Council has worked to ensure passengers with a disability travelling from Northern Ireland have been made aware of their rights. We produced an Access to Air Travel guide for passengers explaining their rights under the Regulation and to date, over 10,000 copies have been distributed to consumers across Northern Ireland.
The Consumer Council has also worked to raise passengers’ awareness of their rights under the Regulation by promoting awareness via local press and media outlets.
Q. Turnaround times of complaints are of the essence for all parties involved. Does the CCNI have pre-set quality standards for the complaint handling process?
A. The Consumer Council has an agreement with each of the Northern Ireland airports and the airlines operating from them which requires an airport / airline to reply to a complaint made by the consumer Council within 15 working days. If further enquiries are directed to the airline / airport following the initial complaint enquiry, responses are expected within five working days.
Q. Which have you identified to be the commonest complaint, and which solutions have been implemented to prevent it from happening again in the future?
A. The Consumer Council has received complaints from passengers concerning many issues, for example, the carriage of mobility equipment, assistance of passengers with a disability at airports, treatment by security staff and seating allocation. We have found that, in many cases, complaints can be avoided by ensuring customer facing staff are correctly trained to understand the needs of passengers with a disability and are able to meet these needs in a caring and professional manner.
Where an issue has arisen we work with the airline or airport in question to ensure the issue at the core of the complaint is addressed to prevent further complaints arising in the future.
Q. Has the CCNI ever recommended enforcement of 1107/2006? If yes, what was the outcome?
A. The Consumer Council is designated as a complaints handler for Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006. Where common complaints are identified, and there is a clear trend in relation to a particular airline or airport, or where complaints received give us reason to believe that an airline or airport is failing to comply with the terms of the Regulation, we refer the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). As the National Enforcement Body for the Regulation, it is the role of the CAA to determine whether or not it is necessary and appropriate to take enforcement action against an airline or airport.
The Consumer Council has encountered instances where various airlines have interpreted aspects of the Regulation differently, for example, the criteria for determining whether or not a passenger must be accompanied by a companion who can provide assistance in an emergency situation in flight. These differing approaches have led to confusion and uncertainty for some passengers with a disability and the Consumer Council has requested the CAA provide clarification to ensure a uniform application of the Regulation by all airlines operating in the UK.
Our last question covers an issue of serious concern for Reduced Mobility Rights. Unlike other EU member states, the United Kingdom government has so far failed to adopt civil sanctions. "Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action," Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the CAA, told Reduced Mobility Rights one and half year ago. Nothing has changed since, as we learned from Sandra Webber. "We are working with Government to address the issue," she said last week.
We now learn The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland is also concerned about the unavailability of adequate enforcement powers.
Q. Does the CCNI believe application and enforcement of 1107/2006 can be improved from their current formats?
A. The Consumer Council works with all Northern Ireland airports and the airlines operating from them to ensure they comply with the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006. Where we consider that an airline or airport is failing to meet its responsibilities we refer the issue to the CAA.
We have conducted site visits at Northern Ireland airports to assess the standards of assistance provided by airport special assistance staff and have provided feedback on where services could be improved. The Consumer Council also participates in regular liaison meeting with the CAA and Department for Transport to identify areas for improvement in the application of the Regulation.
The Consumer Council has explained to the Department of Transport that we believe a range of civil sanctions should be made available to the CAA to provide the CAA with a greater range of available powers and greater flexibility to apply the most appropriate enforcement action on a case by case basis.
The Consumer Council is in close contact with those consumers with disabilities and representative organisations so that we have an up-to-date view of their experiences and are better able to represent them in discussions with airlines and airports. On Air Passenger Rights Day this July members of staff from the Consumer Council were at George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport to provide advice and information to all passengers about their rights when travelling by air.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni has extensive knowledge of PRM regulations and handling procedures, along with first-hand experience as a travelling companion and carer of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of ESAAG. Chaired by the Hon. David Blunkett MP, the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group, ESAAG, provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance. Easyjet is the largest airline in the United Kingdom by number of passengers carried.