we’re flying into months of UK travel chaos.  But who will protect the passengers?

we’re flying into months of UK travel chaos. But who will protect the passengers?

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<p><figcaption class=Photography: David Pearson/Alamy

Flying is certainly not as glamorous as it once was, but that doesn’t mean it was as painful as it is now. Airlines charge customers for small comforts – like sitting next to the person you booked your flight with – and that’s if your flight takes off. Many customers have been grounded after canceled flights, praying for the compensation they are legally entitled to. It is not a situation that any sector, or regulator, should be satisfied with.

Aviation is a relentless business with extremely tight profit margins. The industry is littered with dead bodies, like Monarch and Thomas Cook, showing what happens to companies with an unsustainable model. But the current crisis is a result of airlines being too focused on profits and not paying enough attention to the well-being of customers and employees.

You may remember a time when airline staff brought all-you-can-eat meals on their flight to Spain, but these extras were first on the chopping board as market liberalization in Europe led to the emergence of cost-effective carriers that would define the pace for a race to the bottom between providers.

Low-cost airlines have tried to steal business travelers from traditional carriers, and in return, the traditional carriers have taken a discount airline approach to their economy class. Holidays abroad became more affordable, but travelers began to feel more like figures on a balance sheet than valued customers.

Staff began taking labor action on cost and salary cuts, with British Airways employees on strike in 2009 and again in 2017. While management told employees about the importance of value for money, the message was marred by salary increases. on the top. In 2019, then BA chief executive Alex Cruz caused outrage by accepting a “£530,000” pay raise, while pilots did not receive pay raises to the extent they requested.

Then Covid-19 arrived. Airlines, airports and third parties involved in aviation have laid off hundreds of thousands of workers. Many workers whose careers spanned several decades were fired without a second thought. Airlines have been accused of operating “fire and hire” schemes, abusing the spirit of the license scheme and cutting too much. In 2020, the UK parliament’s transport committee accused some airlines of making a “calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs”. During the pandemic, many airlines also failed to provide full cash refunds to consumers when required by law.

As we come out of the pandemic, it often feels like things are getting worse rather than better. Wizz Air Chief Executive József Váradi said employees should “make extra effort” when they are tired so the airline can avoid canceling flights. The comment was met with outrage by pilots’ unions, who said the comments demonstrated a “deficient safety culture”. Wizz Air denied that Váradi specifically targeted pilots, insisting he was speaking to all staff and saying that “safety is and will always be our first priority”.

Related: Flight cancellations and delays: how to complain against an airline

As thousands of flights are canceled in the coming months, there are fears that consumers could be duped again by airlines looking to limit payments. The UK’s own air regulator, charged with protecting travelers, has admitted that its enforcement powers regarding airline reimbursements are insufficient.

In late April, the UK parliament’s transport committee said the UK Civil Aviation Authority was urgently demanding the power to impose financial penalties on airlines that fail to offer full refunds to consumers when required by law. The parliamentary committee also urged the government to introduce a mechanism to ensure that, when entitled to a refund by law, airline passengers receive automatic compensation.

But it’s not all bad news. In a sign that shareholders can also have enough, BA parent IAG faces possible shareholder revolt over the decision to increase CEO Luis Gallego Martín’s share premiums despite huge losses during the pandemic. Starting earlier this year, BA passengers once again received free food and drink on short-haul flights after the airline’s boss admitted that discarding perks was a mistake.

Restoring faith in UK aviation will take more than just a sandwich, however. Job security for employees and new powers for the industry regulator should also be on the menu.

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