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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airlines Told to Improve Service

MTPassengers waiting for a flight in the departures lounge of Vnukovo Airport.
The Transportation Ministry has ordered the country's airlines to improve their customer service or risk losing their licenses.

Ministry regulations, to come into force Oct. 20, will require all air carriers to conform to a list of customer service standards in dealing with passengers on the ground.

"This is all aimed at making the customer feel like the airline cares about them," ministry spokesman Timur Khikmatov said Wednesday.

The instructions forbid airlines from denying a passenger travel in the case of lost or stolen tickets and sets out strict guidelines in the event of delays, from providing hot meals every four hours to providing baby-changing facilities and putting passengers up in hotels for the night.

An airline that fails in customer service risks sanctions ranging from a small fine to losing its operating license or being closed down altogether.

The country's biggest airline, Aeroflot, was unconcerned.

"It will take only very minor changes to make us fully compliant," spokesman Viktor Sokolov said. "For example, before [in the event of a delay] we offered two telephone calls and one fax to every customer. The new rules require two calls and an e-mail," he said.

Artur Akopov, a spokesman for airline S7, said the implied increase in competition would not hit the company's customer base.

"We are not afraid of losing customers," Akopov said. "This is one area in which S7 excels."

One problem is that such legislation requires the backing of a powerful oversight agency, said Pyotr Shelishch, a United Russia State Duma deputy who heads the Consumers' Union.

"Look, it's obvious that this is a good thing," Shelishch said. "The only question to ask is: Why has it taken so long? I will tell you why -- because nothing gets done quickly in this country. We still need a good, functioning oversight agency to make sure these rules are properly enforced."

The new rules are aimed at putting an end to episodes like those described on English-language web site Redtape.ru.

One user said she was stuck in Belgium for three days. Her Aeroflot ticket to Moscow was stolen hours before check-in, but airline staff refused to acknowledge that her ticket ever existed and she was forced to sit out the weekend before the Aeroflot ticket office in Brussels opened.

Another complained of an unexplained eight-hour delay at Sheremetyevo Airport with no food or drink offered.

"It's important to get a set of standards for every airline, no matter whether they already meet those standards," said Khikmatov, the Transportation Ministry spokesman. "It will increase costs for certain, smaller airlines, but improve service standards across the board."

The regulations will update Soviet-era legislation that does not fully comply with the Warsaw Convention on international air travel liability, to which Russia is a signatory.

The new regulations state that airlines should provide "all essential services" to passengers in the event of delays or cancellations for which the carrier is responsible or as a result of bad weather or "other reasons."

Those services include: providing separate rooms in airports for mothers with children younger than 8 years old; providing hot meals every four hours; providing hotel facilities if the delay is longer than eight hours during the day and six hours during the night; and guarding luggage.