Independent 'airline advocate' to resolve traveller complaints

By John Walton, April 27 2012
Independent 'airline advocate' to resolve traveller complaints

Frustrated travellers will soon be able to call upon an independent ombudsman when they feel that airlines aren't giving them a fair shake.

The National Airline Consumer Advocate, set up by the Federal Government with founding airline members Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar, Regional Express and Tiger, will launch by July and "act as a facilitator and work with the major airlines to address the complaints of any customer who has been unable to resolve them directly", says the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

So what will the advocate be able to do? According to the Department, he or she will "work with a committee comprising a representative from each of the founding airlines to get complaints resolved within 20 working days."

Details are sketchy about what what specific issues the advocate can examine, as there are no current terms of reference in place. So we'll suggest a few items for the advocate's to-do list:

  • make clear compensation for passengers for late or cancelled flights
  • end unreasonably high credit card surcharge fees
  • impose refunds for late or lost baggage
  • arrange simplified, standardised claim forms
  • publish airline service standards for when things go wrong

By international standards, Australians already have a reasonable set of rights and remedies under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Airlines are forbidden from some of the worst rorts from history and from abroad: hidden fees and charges, ridiculous small print terms & conditions, plain mis-selling, and so on.

Frequent travellers to Europe, though, will be familiar with the stronger (though less snappily named) EC Regulation No 261/2004, which guarantees compensation under circumstances that include delays of over two hours or cancellations.

For example, airlines cancelling a flight of up to 1,500km must pay each passenger €250 (A$318), while flights greater than 3,500km invokve the maximum passenger payment of €600 (A$763).

Passengers like those regulations because airlines are on the hook for the total cost of the inconvenience when they cancel flights, although the airlines often suggest the regs go too far. Looking into similar laws here would be a good start.

It's likely that the advocate is aimed at the low-cost end of the market, with Tiger and Jetstar probably squarely in Transport Minister Anthony Albanese's sights when he quipped: "Cheap fares shouldn't mean cheap treatment."

But with another option instead of legal action when the airlines get things seriously wrong -- and sometimes they do -- this advocate sounds like a sensible addition to the business traveller's toolbox.

What else would you add to the advocate's to-do list? What do airlines get seriously wrong, and which airlines are the worst at putting things right? Share your thoughts and experiences with your fellow AusBT readers in a comment below. 

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Apr 2012

Total posts 14

This news is great but is probably too late for me. The following is a brief outline of how we got our luggage on day 21 of a 30 day Europe trip. Last Sept flew to Europe via KL but our flight was 4 hours late leaving Australia therefore missed connect ion but was placed on another flight direct to Paris that left almost immediately. Arrived Paris  but luggage didn’t and on day 3 were advised by email that luggage was now in Paris but we weren’t. Email requested name, address and telephone number of our accommodation and responded with the details of accommodation 5 days ahead which was in Spain. Monitored emails for 36 hours,  no responses  and then didn’t have any email access for 30 hours.  Accessed emails again to discover an email requesting details of nearest Spanish airport. We were dealing with an organisation that wouldn’t ring our accommodation to find out the name of the nearest airport , took at least 36 hours to respond to emails and also wouldn’t speak to you over the phone unless you made a serious effort to speak in French.  Eventually got luggage on day 21, one case was damaged and then got into trouble for checking in 2kgs overweight for flights back to Australia.

Compensation consisted of disposable razor, toothbrush, small tube of toothpaste, small tube of shaving cream and a t-shirt.

Were advised on 21/2/2012 that reimbursement/compensation in about 2 weeks and it has not arrived.


The personal cost of buying clothes and managing the process of the missing luggage was about 2 days of my holidays


Skywards Gold

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 54

Any updates on this? Are they up and running - do you have a website link?

22 Aug 2013

Total posts 1

I have been on an Emirates return flight a few months ago from Sydney to Bucharest, Romania stopping in Dubai for a few days for business purposes (BOOKING REFERENCE JYRK4N; ELECTRONIC TICKET NUMBER 176 2125744756)

Due to some urgency I had to rebook my return ticket back to Sydney from Bucharest.   I got in contact with Emirates Romanian office in Bucharest, and they took care of the re-booking.  I got charged a fee of 510Euros for this rebooking.  Initially I thought this sum was a bit excessive but I needed to return back home asap.  Upon returning I got in touch with the Emirates Airline and inquired about this high fee, especially that the previous year when I was in very similar position and had to rebook by return ticket and only cost me $AUD100 (different airline) from same destination, this time it was 510Euros (with Emirates). 

The Emirates office told me that I should have got charged the amount of 170Euros (that was their records indicated) and the 340Euros difference, basically I got ripped off and they assured me that it will be refunded back to me.

I sent to the Emirates office all the paperwork requested:  payment receipt, my credit card complete statement, my personal bank account details (for the refund), my personal address and any other things they required.

I am very disappointed with the Emirates Customers service, very slack the say the least, it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone.  One can only email to them, no phone number one can call, and the emails get responded to after many many days, often after pleading to them for a response, any response.  Everytime they do decide to reply it’s always a different person and they always say same thing…”we’ll keep you updated…”.

As for the Romanian Emirates office, well these people are like hyenas, when they sense urgency or a chance of making a quick buck, they will pound,  I guess it’s pretty much a whole month of their wages, no integrity, no morals, nothing, third world country pouncing at any opportunity.

I am still waiting for any response from the Emirates Airline but my hopes are quickly fading for any response or resolution to this problem. 

The actual flight and cabin crew was ok but I will personally NEVER fly Emirates EVER AGAIN, I will not allow any of my family members to fly with them and I will pass on this story to anyone interested, simple because VERY LOUSY CUSTOMER SERVICE, ALMOST NON-EXISTENT.

First time and last time on Emirates Airline…

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Apr 2014

Total posts 1

It is about time that the airlines in Australia start treating their customers fair and accept a duty of care when they cannot meet their commitment for any reason.

Why should travelers in Australia should carry all the risks and be dumped at airports without any right for compensation..

Australian consumer protection laws are a joke and embarassing. Have a look at Europe and learn how to treat airline customers correctly.


01 May 2014

Total posts 1

Big sink hole appeared in the highway at kangaroo creek outside of bowen qld 1st may, police have closed the highway , so could not make flight to brisbane , rang virgin and had to pay a new airfare , no compassion , no fault of mine, lost accomadation return airfares for 2 persons , these airlines seem to be a law unto themselfs , maybe we should all boycott these greedy airlines that have no compassion , virgin australia you are nothing but skyway robbers , greedy and unhuman god pays debts with out money  was a loyal traveller never again virgin you should be called slut as u use people for money


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