Airlines are being ordered to improve service to passengers suffering from disruption and those who are disabled.

The industry must also keep consumers better informed and catered for when things go wrong, and get better at handling complaints.

The Civila Aviation Authority is calling for the industry to do more to reduce overcrowding and long queues at airports and to consider taking action on disruptive behaviour by passenegrs.

The order from the aviation regulator came as new research found a slump in trust and satisfaction with flying.

Almost half of passengers suffered disruption to their last flight, the study found.

And overall satisfaction levels have fallen from 90% in March 2016 to 86% in October this year.

The percentage of those who claim to enjoy air travel also dropped – from 57% to 53%.

This is coupled with a decline in people’s trust of the aviation industry.

The percentage of consumers confident that they would get the service they have paid fell by four points from 61% to 57%.

The percentage of consumers confident that they would be treated fairly should things go wrong in October 2017 was just 44%.

The Ipsos Mori poll of more than 3,500 consumers came aganist the backdrop of British Airways IT meltdown in the late May bank holiday and Ryanair cancelling flights in the autumn after a pilot rota mess up.

The independent research “will help inform the CAA’s work to put consumers’ interests at the heart of the way it regulates the aviation market”.

  • Common problems (such as delays, long queues and overcrowding) are key drivers of dissatisfaction, with those who experienced these things on their most recent flight 7% more likely to disagree that they enjoy flying (22% compared to 15% of recent flyers overall).
  • 45% of people experienced disruption on their last flight.
  • Crowding and long queues at airports (19%), and flight delays (16%) were the most common problems. Delays at immigration and long waits for luggage were the most dissatisfying (67% were dissatisfied with how delays at immigration were handled and 62% were dissatisfied with the way long waits for luggage were handled).
  • 18% of flyers have experienced (either directly or indirectly) aggressive behaviour when flying over the past three years.
  • Passengers who experienced aggressive behaviour on their last flight were typically 9% less satisfied with their last flying experience.
  • Delays of longer than an hour impact consumers’ level of frustration. 71% would feel very frustrated by a delay of up to two hours, and 37% would question whether they would use the same airport or airline again.
  • A delay of up to four hours would make 79% of consumers consider flying with a different airline or from a different airport next time.
  • 56% of those surveyed were not satisfied with the information provided to them when things go wrong. 69% were not satisfied with the arrangements made to look after them.
  • 18% of those with grievances consider formally complaining, but almost half of these (46%) don’t end up bothering. The main barrier to formally complaining is the belief that it will take too much time and effort (stated by 55% of those who considered making a formal complaint but did not go ahead with it) – something true of both airline and airports’ complaints processes and Alternative Dispute Resolution – a second tier complaint handling mechanism.
  • Less than a third of people are satisfied with the complaints handing process, but more are satisfied with Alternative Dispute Resolution processes. In March 2017, more than a quarter (27%) of those who complained but did not escalate to ADR were satisfied, compared to 55% of those who did escalate to ADR.
  • In October 2017, 10% of disabled passengers were dissatisfied with the assistance they received.
  • Those with hidden disabilities (61% of all disabled respondents) have a worse experience of assistance and are more pessimistic about their experiences of flying improving in the future.
  • 60% of those requiring assistance would choose their departure airport based on the assistance available, but only half of this group feel well informed about the levels of assistance available at different airports.

In response, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the association that represents UK-registered carriers, said: “UK airlines work hard to ensure that the passenger experience is as smooth and enjoyable as possible, and we’re pleased that the latest CAA tracker shows that satisfaction levels with all elements of UK aviation are overwhelmingly positive, at 86%.

“This is while offering lower cost travel, with fares coming down by an average of 40% over the past couple of decades, and more people taking to the skies than ever before.”

He added: “Occasionally things do go wrong and that is why airlines provide support to passengers, including complying with all legal requirements on passenger rights and consumer protection – paying compensation when it is due and offering great customer service to their 270 million passengers, in what is a highly competitive industry.

“Many parts of the passenger experience involve other players in the aviation industry, such as airports, who already charge airlines large sums of money to be able to operate services.

“Clearly all parts of the industry need to work together to ensure that passenger expectations are met.”