Life Travel Why Australia needs a better airline compensation scheme

Why Australia needs a better airline compensation scheme

Australia needs a better airline compensation scheme, a leading aviation lawyer says. Photo: Getty
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European flyers get hundreds of dollars in compensation when their flights are cancelled. But in Australia inconvenienced passengers get nothing.

According to Joseph Wheeler, principal lawyer at the International Aerospace Law and Policy Group, Australia needs a consumer protection scheme similar to the European Union. 

Under European Regulation, passengers are entitled to between $250 and $1100 in compensation when their flight lands at their destination more than three hours late due to an airline’s fault. 

When flights are cancelled, passengers have the right to take an alternative flight with the same airline to their destination, or cancel their bookings and receive full refunds.

“Australia needs to do something serious about consumer protection because, at the moment in terms of complaints about domestic airlines, there isn’t an official or government body to make those complaints,” Mr Wheeler told The New Daily.

Instead, there’s an industry ombudsman (Airline Customer Advocate) paid for by Australia’s domestic airlines, he said.

“What we really need to do is move towards a more European approach that is consumer central, rather than airline focused.”

The New Daily has phoned the Airline Customer Advocate on several occasions, but has not been able to speak with anyone from the group because the call has been diverted to voicemail.

Last year, the airline advocate only resolved around 52 per cent of complaints.

As it stands, all domestic airlines in Australia will put passengers on the next available flight if it’s delayed or cancelled within the airline’s control. 

If it’s outside an airline’s control, for reasons such as bad weather or air traffic control issues, airlines will assist passengers with re-booking flights. 

In terms of refunds, if a flight is cancelled within the airline’s control then passengers are entitled to a refund.

Under the European Union passengers are compensated in some instances. Photo: Getty

If it’s outside the airline’s control, Qantas will offer a refund only if they can’t re-book you on the next available flight. Other airlines will offer credit vouchers.

Virgin Australia and Qantas also offer meals, accommodation and transfer requests if a flight is delayed or cancelled within its control.

However, if it’s outside their control, airlines may only offer some assistance to passengers with sourcing hotel accommodation.

“Airlines under the European Union are institutionalised to putting the customer first.

“If you’re not going to make it on your flight the airlines will give you your compensation information and voucher and this is such an easier process compared to the system in place in Australia,” Mr Wheeler said.

A Choice spokeswoman told The New Daily that delays and cancellations were a top problem for Australian travellers, and domestic airlines should provide fixed financial compensation when issues occur within the airlines control. 

“An industry-wide system of standardised compensation already exists in the European Union, so it’s hardly a stretch for Australian consumers to get the same guarantees for a service they have paid for,” the spokeswoman said. 

“Whether it’s a missed business meeting, family dinner or even a wedding, Australian travellers shouldn’t have to pay for the airline’s mistakes.”

But Airline Intelligence Research managing director and former Qantas chief economist Dr Tony Webber said compensation shouldn’t be offered when events occur outside of an airline’s control.

“Most delays are caused by things beyond their control, whether it’s a weather event or technical failure, so in those circumstances what’s in place now is fine,” Mr Webber said.

He said if circumstances occur inside an airline’s control then there could be grounds for compensation.

“I don’t think there needs to be an industry body, as the way claims are made at the moment is working fine.”

A Qantas spokesman told The New Daily sometimes poor weather, engineering issues and other factors beyond the airline’s control could cause flight delays.

“Depending on the severity of the delay, passengers may be offered food and beverage vouchers for short delays, while accommodation may also be provided in some cases,” the spokesperson said.

A TigerAir spokewoman said the airline was committed to delivering a safe and reliable service to its customers.

“We continually review our complaint handling practices to facilitate a responsive and positive experience for our customers and to ensure compliance with our legal obligations,” the spokeswoman told The New Daily

A Jetstar spokesman told The New Daily that when unavoidable disruptions to flights occur due to severe weather or other events, it had a range of options to assist.

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