Britain's Civil Aviation Authority plans to create an independent aviation ombudsman to help passengers sort out disputes with airlines that try to avoid paying compensation.
But just how tough will the new regime be? Airlines will be bound by the findings only if they sign up to the scheme voluntarily. If they do the ombudsman will be able to order them to pay up. And minimum standards will be introduced to ensure complaints are handled quickly and fairly.
Theoretically the system should be much more effective and faster than the current CAA complaints process. Some airlines have flouted its decisions. Consumers have been forced to take legal action to get redress. The Authority recently threatened to take three airlines to court after they failed to comply with Court of Appeal rulings on compensation. It says two of them have failed to demonstrate they are paying out for problems caused by technical faults they ought to have provided against and are imposing illegal deadlines by which passengers must claim.
The Authority hopes all airlines will agree to be bound by the ombudsman's rulings and says if if the system doesn't work it will seek to make compliance compulsory. Many consumers, frustrated by lengthy delays in securing compensation to which they are fully entitled, may think it all sounds a little optimistic.
The proposal follows an EU directive requiring the establishment of schemes which consumers can use when disputes can't be settled through businesses' own complaints handling procedures.
Iain Osborne, the CAA's group director of regulatory policy, said: It can't be right that many air passengers have to go to court to get a concrete resolution to their complaint - especially when they can easily go to an independent ombudsman with an unresolved telecoms, energy or financial services problem. We are not prepared to let that situation continue and moving towards an ombudsman-style approach for aviation will make sure air passengers benefit from the quick, fair and certain approach that has long been the norm in other major consumer markets."