Korea moving to address customer complaints against foreign airliners

This week, the Transport Ministry announced that it would look into how foreign airlines were operating in the country, as complaints are mounting over their services. The ministry said it would consider the opinions of foreign airlines, but industry watchers believe the government is using this as a chance to crack down on the sector.

“Many foreign airlines, especially low cost carriers, don’t have a proper office or call center to receive customer complaints. Such loopholes could directly affect people’s security and convenience,” another ministry official said.

“We are planning to advise firms that are not protecting their customers, and punitive measures will be taken against those committing illegal practices.”

According to the Korea Consumer Agency, the state-run consumer rights protection body received 482 complaints from airline passengers in 2013. More than 70 percent were filed against foreign enterprises, according to the agency.

In particular, complaints against foreign low-cost carriers have been skyrocketing, with 209 cases last year, almost seven times the number in 2012. Among them, Philippines-based budget carrier AirAsia Zest received the most complaints. The firm declined to comment.

The most common complaints were the lack of compensation for flight delays or cancellations and difficulty in contacting airline staff by phone. The carriers, however, claim that their policies are identical in all countries they operate in.

“It would be difficult for us to comply with different rules in South Korea,” said one carrier employee, declining to be identified.

The Transport Ministry said it plans to meet with foreign airlines and the Korea Consumer Agency in August after it finishes analyzing the services of foreign carriers.

However, when contacted by The Korea Herald, most seemed uninformed of such plans.

“We are not aware of such a conference,” said one airline official.

The South Korean market is booming for foreign budget carriers, and recently four new players, including Vanilla Air from Japan, were allowed to operate here.