Melbourne-based law firm Slater and Gordon is sizing up class action lawsuits against airlines, travel agencies, cruise operators and tour companies over their refusal to provide travellers with refunds for cancelled trips.
Qantas, Jetstar, Flight Centre and Webjet are among the businesses called out by the firm for pushing travel credits or vouchers instead of a full refund.
Also in Slater and Gordon's cross-hairs is the practice of airlines selling seats on international flights from Australia that are highly unlikely to depart.
When those flights are ultimately cancelled by the airlines, the customer may again be faced with the prospect of receiving a travel credit or voucher rather than a cash refund.
“We understand that everyone is doing it tough at present, including the major airlines and travel companies,” acknowledges Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Andrew Paull, “but that doesn’t give them an excuse to take advantage of their customers.”
“We believe cash refunds should be returned to customers, who almost certainly need that money right now, rather than (remaining) in bank accounts gathering interest for airline shareholders.”
The firm believes tens of thousands of Australians may be affected by these travel industry practices, which could make them eligible to participate in an eventual class action claim, seeking to convert their existing travel credit into a cash refund.
Slater and Gordon is inviting would-be travellers who have received travel credits or vouchers in lieu of cash refunds to register their interest in a possible class action claim against their travel provider, to recover their cash.
What have travel providers done wrong?
Slater and Gordon holds that many travel providers, “including Qantas and Jetstar, may have breached their legal obligations by putting in place travel voucher schemes that significantly disadvantage their customers.”
Some airlines were also believed to be holding onto customers’ cash by accepting payment for highly questionable international leisure flights, which would inevitably be cancelled.
One example given is both Qantas and Jetstar recently selling flights from Australia to Bali with departure dates as soon as June 1 2020, despite Government travel bans and the recent implication that even trans-Tasman travel may not resume until late June or early July at the earliest, let alone broader overseas flying.
“We call on businesses like Qantas and Jetstar to do the right thing and honour their obligations to their customers. If they won’t do so, then it’s only reasonable for those customers to look at recovering their money through a class action,” Paull elaborates.
It is “not acceptable for Qantas shareholders to treat the money it owes to ordinary Australians like its own,” he adds.
The day after Paull’s comments were made on May 4, Qantas announced it would be blocking ticket sales on international flights set to depart before August 1, except for trans-Tasman routes, which are currently on sale from July 1.
How to register your interest in a class action claim
If your travel plans have been impacted by the coronavirus and you’ve received a travel voucher instead of a refund, you can register your details on the Slater and Gordon website.
Slater and Gordon is seeking people affected by flight cancellations from Australian airlines, as well as those impacted by airline cancellations on journeys to or from Australia operated by overseas-based carriers.
This includes not only Qantas and Jetstar, but also Air New Zealand, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and more.
While Virgin Australia and Tigerair are both currently in voluntary administration, submissions from customers of these brands are being accepted too.
However, these airlines have temporarily paused issuing new refunds – and even new travel credits – until otherwise directed by the administrator, as part of that administration process.
Customers of tour companies and cruise operators whose voyages were similarly axed are also invited to register their details.
There’s no cost to register your interest via the Slater and Gordon website, where further information is available.