Norwegian, Iberia and its associated airlines, Air Europa, the defunct Air Berlin, Wizz Air and Vueling, were the companies that came up most often in passenger complaints filed with the State Air Security Agency (AESA), a department of the Spanish Public Works Ministry that addresses claims over delays, cancellations and boarding refusals.
The overall number of complaints has jumped by 50% since 2015
According to official data obtained by EL PAÍS, AESA received 15,604 passenger complaints in 2017 – a 50% rise from 2015 figures. This is due “in part to the increase in air traffic in Spain,” AESA said in a response obtained by EL PAÍS under the Transparency Law, which for the first time has allowed access to information on complaints against each airline.
Statistics show that 2,406 complaints were filed against Iberia in 2017, making it the worst-performing airline in absolute terms. The Spanish airline Vueling came in second place with 2,333 complaints, followed by Ryanair with 1,789.
But in relative terms, taking into account the number of passengers who were carried that year, Iberia drops to second place with 168.9 complaints for every one million passengers, after Norwegian Airlines which received 180.1 claims per million.
Rise in claims
The increase in air traffic is only partly to blame for the rise in claims, given that the number of passengers only grew by 19.7% between 2015 and 2017, according to the Spanish airport authority AENA.
More than half of all complaints filed last year were about delays (57%). One in three claimants (33%) demanded compensation for a canceled flight. In 6% of cases, passengers were prevented from boarding their flights. The rest of the cases (4%) were filed as “other categories,” according to AESA’s managing director Isabel Maestre.
Ignoring AESA rulings
Once AESA has finished reviewing a complaint (the typical processing period is 90 days but it can be extended to 120 if the issue is complex), the organization releases a final report, which it sends to both the passenger and the airline. But the report’s conclusions are not binding and many airlines ignore the decisions, meaning passengers have to turn to the courts.
Fully 57% of all complaints were about delays
AESA’s decisions should be binding, according to EU law, but the legislative change that will make this possible in 2019 is still being processed.
Most airlines consulted by this newspaper avoided specifying whether they follow AESA’s decisions when these favor the passenger. The only airline that responded was Volotea (with 172 complaints and 811,576 passengers in 2017), which said it “scrupulously” complies with all resolutions that order passengers be compensated as part of its “company policy.”
Passengers can only file a complaint with AESA when the airline has failed to respond for 30 days, or when the response has not been satisfactory. The data obtained by EL PAÍS reflects the number of complaints accepted by AESA, not how many were presented to the agency.
The Iberia group, which includes the airlines Iberia, Iberia Express and Air Nostrum, did not comment on the findings.
English version by Melissa Kitson.