Flyers' ire: plane passengers' biggest gripes

Late planes, reclining seats and chatty neighbours are among passengers' top gripes, writes Chris Vedelago.

Flight delays and the annoying habits of fellow passengers have topped a list of the biggest complaints Australians have about domestic and international air travel, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by online travel agency, had 1700 Australians rate their "greatest flying frustrations", with 58 per cent citing flight delays as the most important issue.

"The days when airplane food was the biggest bugbear of passengers are obviously gone it didn't even score a place in the list," says spokeswoman Lisa Ferrari.

Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics indicate passengers could have legitimate cause for complaint, with on-time performance for domestic airlines declining notably in 2007-08*. In that financial year, an average of 80.6 per cent and 78.8 per cent of flights departed and arrived on time, respectively, compared with 86.9 per cent and 85.6per cent in 2006-07. Cancellations rose 10.3to 11.5 per cent on the important routesbetween Sydney and Brisbane and Melbourne and Sydney.

The days when airplane food was the biggest bugbear of passengers are obviously gone.

Performance has fluctuated but generally improved this financial year, with the latest figures from April showing that 83.6 per cent and 82.8 per cent of departures and arrivals were on time and 1.4 per cent of all flights were cancelled.

Delays and cancellations are typically caused by bad weather, runway congestion, staffing issues, mechanical problems, passengers boarding late and follow-on disruptions caused by the delayed arrival and turnaround of aircraft.

"It's a challenge for airlines given that there's a lot of external factors that come together to get a flight away on time and making it arrive on time," Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway says.

"Airlines have control over some factors but they don't have control over others ... and sometimes there can be a delay even when you've done everything right."

Christopher Zinn, of consumer advocate Choice, says most passengers recognise that delays are part of air travel, with the frustration stemming from a lack of communication on the part of airlines.

"Passengers often aren't properly informed about what is happening or why it is happening. It really does send people crazy," Zinn says.

Among the survey's other common complaints were: people putting their seats back during short flights (48 per cent); being trapped in a seat by a sleeping passenger (38 per cent); overweight passengers who encroach on your seat (36 per cent); poor hygiene of fellow passengers (28 per cent); being "stuck" next to a passenger who won't stop talking (26 per cent); dirty toilets (18per cent); and rude flight staff (7 per cent).

* Includes Jetstar, MacAir, Qantas, QantasLink, Regional Express, Skywest Airlines, Tiger Airways and Virgin Blue.

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