Memorandum submitted by Scottish Passenger
Agents' Association (SPAA) (PEAT 04)
Established in 1921, the Scottish Passenger
Agents' Association (SPAA) is the world's oldest travel trade
association. Today SPAA is Scotland's largest travel trade association
and represents the interests of all of Scotland's major travel
agents, working alongside our Associate Members, which include
many of the world's leading airlines, tour operators and cruise
lines. Each of these sectors within the industry has an interest
in the experience which is relevant to their customers who in
turn become customers of the airlines and airports in the UK.
Competition is what this industry thrives upon;
the challenge to attract customers and guarantee repeat business
ensures we do not rest on our laurels and deliver mediocre services.
Yet the impetus to continuously improve the customer experiencebe
it through reduced airfares or more efficient security proceduresdisappears
when the traveller has no viable alternative. As customer satisfaction
is the goal to which all within the travel industry aim, it is
imperative that the customer experience is good, but sadly this
is not the case.
1.1 Ease of Purchase
Traditionally, the most flexible way of purchasing
an airline ticket was through a travel agent, but recent advances
in technology have led to a drive by the airlines to encourage
internet bookings. This has resulted in cost savings to the airlines,
but a loss of flexibility to the customer in that they cannot
readily compare one operator with another and have to trawl through
various internet sites to establish the best ticket price. With
many customers now becoming amateur travel agents, errors do occur
frequently. In short, tickets are easy to purchase but when an
error is made it can be very expensive and there is unwillingness
on the part of the airline to help the customer.
Travel agents already had a highly efficient
and effective way of making reservations and issuing tickets through
four Global Distribution Systems (GDS). These list flights and
fares of most airlines in a manner which enable fast comparison
with one another and enable choices to be made instantly and easily
in one smooth transaction, both for single and multi sector journeys
through numerous gateways or hubs.
1.2 Transparency of additional charges
Gone are the days when an air fare was simply
that. The price you saw was what you paid. In an effort to continually
reduce the "fare" airlines now addin varying
degreesadditional "taxes and charges". In many
cases, these additional charges are not taxes, but simply a means
of diverting otherwise legitimate business costs away from the
fare into another category.
These includeairport passenger service
charges, fuel surcharges, customs and immigration inspection fees,
insurance and wheelchair levies, and vary considerably from airline
to airline adding extensive confusion to the customer. In addition,
many items previously included, are now charged as an extra, such
as meals, seat allocation, ticket on departure, booking fees etc.
SPAA would recommend that airline fares should
be inclusive of all known compulsory charges and no additional
charges should be made unless they are completely optional.
1.3 Availability of discounted tickets
Many discounted fares are advertised, but as
stated above, it is not clear in many cases what the true cost
will be until well into the booking process. While those employed
in the industry may fully understand what additional charges can
be expected and can advise accordingly, customers cannot be expected
to anticipate all of the additional charges which are likely to
occur and transparency is required in this respect.
1.4 Clear Terms and Conditions
Over the last 10 years airlines have gone from
having very clear terms and conditions which were standard across
the industry to individual rules and regulations which at times
are not well thought out and serve only to confuse the customer.
This is further complicated by terms and conditions not being
clearly signposted on websites and passengers not clearly understanding
what the consequences are of changes to names, or cancellation
/alteration of reservations already made.
2. TRAVEL TO
Most people travelling to an airport have hand
or hold baggage and it is a consequence of this that it is easier
for them to travel by private car. Where bus and train connections
are being planned or already exist it is absolutely essential
that they have adequate baggage storage facilities. It is not
acceptable that commuter type services can simply be extended
to cover the airports.
In addition, where public transport is to be
meaningful, the schedules have to reasonably fit the needs of
the airport and arrival/departure times in the early hours and
late evening arrivals. Without this it is meaningless and will
simply mean that passengers travel by car.
In general, rail travel from and to UK airports
compares unfavourably with airports in other countries such as
Schiphol at Amsterdam.
3.1 Accessibility for elderly and disabled
All airports provide elderly and disabled customers
with additional facilities. However, the airport operating company
will in many cases charge substantial amounts to the airline for
the provision of these services, which, with the exception of
Ryanair, absorb the charge. It is from the customer's viewpoint
seen as a free service but this is certainly not the case at the
UK's major airports. There are certain airports where no additional
charge is made for wheelchair provision and this is commendable
and should be practised at all UK airports.
In many cases, coaches are required to drop
off/pick up quite some distance from terminal buildings. This
is a particular problem for elderly or infirm passengers.
3.2 Quality of check in procedures
Airport check-in has become one of the most
stressful experiences of air travel in the 21st century.
Long queues endure and customer patience is
sorely tried. Space which was once designed for passenger use
has in more and more cases been used for retail development, with
the result that queues snake around a limited number of desks
with an equally limited number of staff as airlines seek to cut
their costs. Advance electronic check in and seat selection is
helping but still has a long way to go before the useage is at
the required levels of satisfaction. A number of airports still
have to introduce the baggage drop facility whichunless
it is quick and easydefeats the purpose of having checked
in before leaving home, and only serves to increase the stress
levels of customers, who thought they were doing the right thing.
3.3 Airport facilities
Our airports in the United Kingdom have forgotten
what their purpose in life is and have become huge shopping malls.
The areas originally designated at the planning stage to for the
use of passengers has been given over to huge retail development
and seating has all but disappeared unless customers use one of
the food outlets, which in turn generates more revenue for the
Vying with check in for the most stressful experience
is the security channel. While we all recognise the need for stringent
security, the designated areas and equipment are simply not large
enough for the volumes of passengers and staffing is woefully
inadequate. Huge queues build up and it would seem that there
is a complete lack of planning. At any airport there are variances
on when an aircraft may land or depart but the one absolute certainty
is that airports know well in advance when passengers will arrive
to check in and proceed to the security channel. There is no excuse
whatsoever for staffing levels not be tailored to the expected
Confusing regulations interpreted differently
at UK airports lead to huge inconsistencies in the level of security
4.1 Rules for carry on baggage
As already stated, standard procedures were
the norm, but in recent months the carry on baggage allowances
were first increased to cut out much of the need to check in bags
and then with increased security the size of carry on bag was
greatly reduced. While the maximum size is now once again standard
for the purposes of security clearances, each airline has its
own weight limit. Confusion among passengers is immense.
4.2 Excess baggage charges
With recent increases in charges announced by
British Airways, the subject of excess baggage charges has come
to the fore. From a standard weight or piece system depending
on the final destination, the free allowance has degenerated into
a confusing range of allowances from 15 kgs upwards, and the trend
is to milk the customer for as much as possible. However, even
if this was clearly displayed and adhered to it would be bad enough,
but British Airways is itself confused with charges for more than
one bag being substantial even if they both fall into the weight
allowance. Elderly and infirm passengers will be judged at check
in as to whether they can ably carry one bag or two but there
is no clear cut rule and the judgement will be made at the discretion
of the check in agent. This is not a satisfactory way of dealing
with the issue.
Further complications arrive on (a) code share
flights when the ticket is sold as a British Airways flight, but
is in fact operated by a partner airline and (b) British Airways
Franchise airlines which operate in all other respects as British
Airways with their colours and flight numbers but the baggage
allowance may vary. How does the customer know?
In the above instance, British Airways is cited
as an example, but code sharing is a widespread practice which
confuses passengers in respect of which airline they are actually
travelling on and what facilities will be available to them.
4.3 Lost and stolen baggage
On point to point journeys, the incidence of
lost baggage is concerning enough but on through connecting journeys
the chances of baggage going astray is very high indeed. This
is of particular concern to passengers travelling from Scotland
via London Heathrow or London Gatwick to an international point.
Recent events at London Heathrow indicate that
the system is far from robust and when things do go wrong there
seems to be a lack of management and willingness to resolve the
issue. From problems in Decemberwell before the fog in
Christmas week, the delays in locating and delivering missing
bags were quite intolerable, and remedial action at the highest
level needs to be taken to prevent such occurrences happening
4.4 Ground handling arrangements
It is apparent that staffing levels and competence
must be improved to ensure that baggage problems are rectified.
It would seem in many cases that the airport employees have little
concern about the inconvenience and expense incurred by the passenger
as a result of their action and better senior management control
is badly needed.
While many airlines have been criticised for
the seat pitch on board there is more awareness now of the effects
of minimal legroom and progress is being made in respect of aircraft
on long haul flights to resolve the issues.
SPAA have no issues with the level of customer
service being provided by UK airlines and commend the action being
taken by airlines and their crews to curtail the actions of unruly,
drunk and disruptive passengers. SPAA suggests that further research
needs to be carried out to establish why this worrying trend is
increasing. While in itself it is only a tiny percentage of passengers
who behave in this way it does have major concerns for all of
the other passengers aboard an aircraft when disruptive and unruly
6. FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS
Flight cancellations are already legislated
for by the EU, but there seems to be an unwillingness to protect
the customer from unnecessary cancellations on the pretext of
weather or operational reasons. There are many, many cases of
flights being cancelled where the airline hides behind the legislation
and no compensation is payable to the customer. In some cases
the customer has gone to court and won, but this should not be
In Scotland, we also have the added complication
of the cancellation of all domestic flights by British Airways
whenever they have a serious problem at London Heathrow. This
means that connecting passengers in each direction are completely
stranded with no alternative transport being provided.
Also, low cost airlines have cancelled flights
without regard to the alternatives available and recent cases
have forced passengers to travel overland at their own cost when
suitable alternatives could have been found via connecting points.
No compensation has been payable. Surely the EU regulations were
not meant to be flouted in this way and should be rigorously enforced.
Having said that, we do accept that weather
can cause cancellations at times. In those circumstances it is
incumbent on the airline or their handling agent to source alternative
forms of transport and provide assistance rather than simply leave
passengers to fend for themselves.
7. BUDGET V
Budget airlines have expanded at a phenomenal
rate over the last 10 years. The travelling public have benefited
greatly from a huge raft of new direct services at affordable
prices which opened up whole new tourist markets both at overseas
and in incoming visitors to Scotland. The public have welcomed
their innovative simplicity but they do have failings in that
they do not provide the level of customer support on the odd occasion
when things go wrong.
Conversely, the full service airlines have gone
from the provision of a high level of servicewhich justified
the fare differentialto a total lack of customer service
and care in an effort to match the budget airlines.
The end result is that there is no incentive
to raise the care level and the customer suffers on both counts.
On the one hand he pays little and expects little, and on the
other he pays more and expects more, but receives little.
8. AIRPORT CHARGES
Airport Charges vary considerably across the
UK. At airports run by BAA in the London area charges are substantially
less per passenger than in airports run by BAA Scotland. The domestic
passenger charge at Gatwick is £4.98 while at Aberdeen it
is £9.53. Passengers at Scotland's main airports can pay
more than double their English counterparts and this is grossly
unfair and an abuse of their dominant position.
It is doubtful if the passenger understands
just how much the airport charges him to walk through the airport
from car park to aircraft, but it can be substantial. On international
flights it can be as high as £13.95 per passenger. On top
are high car park charges.
It can be seen from our submissions on various
aspects of the passenger experience that there are a number of
areas where the level of expected satisfaction has fallen over
the last few years.
Pressure on the airline industry has resulted
in a much lower level of staffing and experience. While it is
relatively easy to make a reservation and purchase a ticket, when
things go adrift, there are not any back up staff to resolve the
Travel agents were well used to playing their
part during strike, weather problems etc and gave of their time
freely to assist their clients and transferred them to other flights
where possible. This is still the case where passengers book with
an agent. With more and more bookings being made directly with
the airline, then the agent is cut out of the loop leaving the
passenger to resolve their own difficulties. When the airline
cannot handle the pressure then the results are disastrous, and
a fairly simple issue at Heathrow becomes a nightmare and media
The experience which passengers encounter at
the hands of airports and airlines is not pleasant and has to
We hope that our submission has been helpful.
If there are areas which you would like us to expand upon then
please do not hesitate to make further contact with us.