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LCQ14: Complaints against airlines

     Following is a question by the Hon Paul Tse Wai-chun and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, at the Legislative Council meeting today (May 18):


     Disputes often arise between flight passengers and airlines over various issues of flight or passenger transport services, including passengers having booked their tickets but were denied boarding due to overbooking by airlines; passengers stranded on airplanes due to tarmac delay; problem of compensation for passengers in respect of loss of checked baggage by airlines; airlines not issuing timely notices of flight delays to passengers; passengers having to pay fines for cancellation of pre-booked tickets.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Consumer Council and relevant government departments had, in the past three years, received the types of complaints mentioned above; if they had, of the number of such complaints, together with a breakdown by the types of disputes mentioned above;

(b) of the existing mechanisms in place to handle such complaints; the policy bureaux and government departments which are responsible for administering the mechanisms; and the policy bureaux and government departments which are responsible for regulating the operation of airlines; and

(c) as it has been reported that the Department of Transportation of the United States will, in view of the common disputes mentioned above, implement in August this year a new set of rules, and one of the rules stipulates that fare advertisements by airlines must state the "full fares" which include taxes and fuel surcharges, so as to enhance the protection for the interests of flight passengers and avoid confusion over the ticket prices and other extra charges, whether the Government will consider making reference to such new requirements, so as to protect the interests of consumers on the one hand, and promote free competition among airlines to ensure that the operating environment for the aviation industry achieves an appropriate balance on the other; if it will, of the specific plans; if not, the reasons for that?



(a) The numbers of relevant complaints received by the Consumer Council (CC) during the period from January 2008 to April 2011 are set out below:

                        2008  2009  2010  2011
                                          (as at
                                          end April)
Denied boarding          10     5     7     0
due to oversale of
air tickets

Passengers stranded       0     0     0     0
on arrival aircraft
due to tarmac delay

Compensation for loss    19     6     7     4
of checked baggage

Departure delay*         45    30    21     2

Fines for cancellation   12     5    13    13
of reservation

* The relevant figures include all the complaints related to departure delay.  CC does not have the breakdown of the number of complaints into departure delay where passengers were not given notice by the airlines.

     From 2009 to 2010, the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) received two complaints related to denied boarding due to oversale of tickets.  CAD also received a complaint related to departure delay without notification in 2009.

(b) Passengers having consumer disputes with airlines may lodge a complaint with CC.  CC generally helps the passengers and airlines discuss and resolve the disputes through mediation.  Separately, when CAD receives complaints related to safety standards and flight operations, it will follow them up with the airlines concerned.

     Airline operations regulation includes safety standards, flight operations, aviation security, public health, labour, taxation and consumer protection, etc.  For instance, in respect of safety standards and flight operations, the Transport and Housing Bureau is the relevant policy bureau whereas CAD is the regulatory department.  Other bureaux and departments/organisations are involved in different respects.

(c) In the United States, from time to time, arrival aircraft (in particular domestic flights) are stranded on the tarmac for long hours while passengers are not provided with water and food, nor are they informed of the causes of delay.  In addition, the sale of air tickets through the Internet has become more common but the transparency of various service fees (e.g. carry-on and checked baggage fees and booking fees, etc.) and taxes is insufficient, rendering it difficult for passengers to know the total costs of the journey.  In response to the above and other common problems such as oversale of air tickets and post-purchase price increases, the Department of Transportation (DoT) of the United States will implement a new set of rules, which include requiring airlines to state the "full fare" inclusive of taxes and fuel surcharges in their fare advertisements, requiring airlines to provide tarmac delay contingency plans, provide tarmac delay data to DoT and passengers, establish service standards for passenger services, improve the transparency of fee information, and increasing the compensation payable to passengers for denied boarding due to airlines' oversale of air tickets, etc.  These rules have been introduced primarily to respond to the situation of the United States, and enhance the protection afforded to passengers through revising the existing rules and expanding their applicability.  

     There is no evidence of such problems in Hong Kong as shown by the number of complaints mentioned in part (a) above.  At this stage, Government does not consider it necessary to implement the relevant rules in Hong Kong.

Ends/Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Issued at HKT 11:31


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