The latest Kaizo Advocacy Index – a twice yearly assessment of online reputations – looks at 20 leading brands across four industry sectors. It found that disgruntled passengers are becoming increasingly vocal with their criticism over budget carriers’ hidden charges and poor complaints handling.

Research into the best online brands reveals Virgin as the best carrier, with a positive score (67 percent), the fourth consecutive time they have claimed the top spot. Budget airlines fared badly with Easyjet dropping 32 percentage points to -23 percent and Ryanair falling 46 points to -62 percent.

The managing director of Kaizo had this to say: “When things go wrong, the Internet provides an easy platform for people to vent their frustrations. Brands need to monitor closely and react quickly to negative comments online.”

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are providing an ever-growing platform for consumers to register dissatisfaction, allowing firms who collate fares from a number of different sources (such as DialAFlight) to keep tabs on public reaction to the specifics of a particular service.

One of the major bugbears for the customer is the tendency for companies to avoid direct contact with their market. “Brands that openly engage with customers online will find themselves promoted more often than those that hide behind streams of corporate news,” said Kaizo.

“The sheer volume of information also means brands need to work hard to be heard online. Identifying what consumers are saying and where they are saying it is an important first step to working out where to focus proactive online communication.”

A DialAFlight spokesman said: “These airlines are no longer ‘low cost.’ They are simply ‘no frills.’ We are now seeing a big demand from people who have been booking flights directly online for the last couple of years. They’ve suddenly realized that once you have added all the online check-in charges, baggage charges, seating charges, and so on, then scheduled flights are often cheaper, and you get treated like a human being!”

Despite the findings, the recession-fuelled bookings decrease shows signs of slowing, according to DialAFlight. The beginning of the year showed sales were down 16 percent from last year, while the last 6 months shows only an 8 percent decrease.