Ask LH: Can I Get An Airline Refund Because Of Industrial Action?

Ask LH: Can I Get An Airline Refund Because Of Industrial Action?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve got a flight booked with Qantas, but with the threat of industrial action, the spokesperson on the phone cannot guarantee me that my flight will be running on the day. So I booked with a different carrier, but couldn’t get my fare refunded from Qantas. The problem is I don’t want a Qantas credit voucher, which is what they’re offering me. I want cash. Any advice on how to approach this issue? Thanks, Rescheduling Madly

Dear RM,

The short and brutal answer: I very much doubt you’ve got any chance whatsoever of getting a cash refund. However, your experience does highlight a couple of useful lessons about booking flights which are worth remembering: :

No airline absolutely guarantees a given flight will run. Between potential mechanical issues, weather problems and security challenges, flights often get cancelled even when industrial action isn’t a factor. If you rang any airline and asked for a rock-solid guarantee that a given flight was going to run on time, they wouldn’t offer it. The terms and conditions for Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger all note that departure times are not guaranteed, ever. So the basic premise of your argument — I want a refund because you can’t offer a totally guaranteed service — doesn’t match up with reality on any airline. Cancellations and delays are, annoyingly, a fact of life.

Refund and change conditions are generally restrictive. While it’s much cheaper to fly in Australia than it was two decades ago, airlines have made up for decreased fares in other ways. One obvious strategy is high baggage fares, but another is less flexible tickets. On the cheapest tickets on any airline, making changes generally requires paying change fees and higher charges, and getting flight credit rather than cash refunds is very much the norm.

You don’t mention what kind of ticket you had, but if it was a cheaper option, chances are you had very few options for changing, and most of them would probably cost extra money. As a consumer, you need to be aware of the conditions before purchasing the ticket. Admittedly, most of us click through the terms and conditions when we’re buying tickets, but given the price of flying, you should check these details before buying.

Qantas hasn’t been charging change fees where flights have to be altered because of cancellations due to the current industrial action, so you should have been able to change your flight if needed. You do have the option of flight credit, and that seems like your best bet.

There’s no clear consumer basis for arguing for a refund here. As your email stands, it suggests that you changed not because you didn’t have an option at all, but because you didn’t want to risk the flight being cancelled. As we’ve noted, that risk exists with every single airline. So arguing “I should get my money back because I didn’t get the service promised” doesn’t work, because in fact that option wasn’t promised in the first place.

Having said that, if anyone has any specific suggestions on getting a cash refund in this context, share them in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send an email to [email protected], and include ‘Ask Lifehacker’ in the subject line. The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • My wife went to Townsville late last week, she had the flight booked with Qantas and she was terrified that she was going to lose it. I asked her to see if she could cancel the flight and book elsewhere, but they point blank refused, which I suppose I can understand. But if you miss the flight due to industrial action, which is no fault of you own, I really believe you should be able to get a refund, it’s their fault!

    • Well actually it’s not ‘their’ fault. Of course you can argue for or against the industrial action, but this certainly was not a choice made by the airline. Really gets on my nerves when someone thinks that just because something is not their own fault then it must be the fault of whichever corporate entity they want something from.

      • The ticket was bought from Qantas in good faith, and with return was quite expensive! They don’t have the high moral ground here, they have her money, and they expect that they can do with it what they like, that’s bullshit, regardless of the reason.

          • Why? name me one bricks and mortar business that would insist on store credit if you bought something that was not working when you got it home?

          • Saying that you bought something in good faith is a waste of your breath. Saying that is not needed as it is assumed as a part of any sales process.

            Emphasizing it makes you sound like a dick

          • Not trying to be funny dude, just emphasising the point. Not like it’s a life or death issue eh?

          • Name me one bricks and mortar store that would offer a refund if a product *MIGHT* not work.
            Until cancelled all flights are assumed to be viable. If it is cancelled then you can ask for money back.

    • Na that’s different. The flights actually were cancelled in that case whereas in this case they’re trying to cancel they’re tickets in pre-emption of a cancelled flight.

  • Afternoon all;

    Putting on bush lawyers hat…

    We must always keep in mind the good old Trade Practices Act. Section 51 of the Act requires that goods be fit for the purposes for which they are sold. In the case of Tiger, where services were sold and they were not able to fly a refund had to be provided.

    In Qantas’ case they have broken a contract. In return for your money they were to provide a service. Where they cannot agree a remedy, agreed to by both parties, must be acted upon.

    The only reason why no-one gets a refund from the Airlines is that they seem unknowing of the Act. Class action anyone?

    For more information and for the latest changes to the Act an overview can be found here:

    This opens a PDF that describes the changes that came into effect on 01/01/2011. Please see the section on the supply of services.

    From the website:
    “On 1 January 2011, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) came into effect. The ACL introduced a number of reforms, including consumer guarantees. The consumer guarantees replace the existing implied warranties and conditions regime contained in the Trade Practices Act (which has been renamed the Competition and Consumer Act) and in the state and territory fair trading laws.”

    Hope this is of interest to some.

    • Just to play devil’s advocate here Andrew, if Qantas has stipulated that they cannot guarantee a flight and failing that, offered to replace the flight with another of equal value – how does that equate to a breach of contract under the Trade Practices Act?

    • When they have cancelled or changed flights – they have offered refunds, credits or rescheduling.

      But you can’t get a refund on the possibility that they may be disrupted. In fact considering that currently the service they sold you ‘Flight to Location at Date and Time’ is still planned and probable – there is no need to offer a refund.

      The fact they offer you a credit at all is actually a benefit to their brand and their consideration – many other airlines would not do this.

  • D’Oh!

    On reflection, and after hitting the submit button the following sentence:
    “Where they cannot agree a remedy, agreed to by both parties, must be acted upon.”

    Should have read:
    “Where one side of the contracted parties has breached the contract, in this case Qantas by not providing the service, a remedy must be agreed to by both sides.

    “When the parties cannot agree upon a remedy for the breach of contract, thrid party mediation in the form of a court may be used to oversee mediation, and where necessary enforce mediation, penalties and costs.”

    Andrew (who read more of what he writes)

    • I’m relatively certain that one of the first-year law precedent cases (maybe involes TAA?) is one that talks about how what you buy on the internet isn’t a seat on the plane, it’s a reservation for a seat on the plane – which you then exchange for the ticket.

      I’m not sure on exactly how that works, but I know it’s very annoying.

  • Qantas’ Conditions of Carriage – the full version – states “we do not guarantee the flight times and they do not form part of your contract of carriage with us.”

    Cancellation is handled differently – they *may* refund you.

    The flight in question, apparently, hadn’t yet been cancelled. No refund.

  • Or you could just pay $51 and get domestic travel insurance.

    That was a quick quote I got online for a 5 day trip over East.

    Why on earth would you get domestic travel insurance? Well, one of my Mum’s clients (she’s a travel agent) had a heart attack during his weekended to Melbourne and was in hospital for 3 weeks. Sure, Medicare paid for his hospital bills, but his wife’s accommodation costs in Melbourne for almost a month got paid for by the insurer.

    And yes, their tickets were refunded.

  • Captain Picard, its all in the fine print the lawyers have got us well and truly stitched up my friend! My only suggestion is to write a letter to them and in it tell them that if you do not get your money back you and your family will never fly on a Qantas owned airline ever again.

    Craig says ” ..but this certainly was not a choice made by the airline. ”

    Craig, it takes two to tango. Qantas is one of the most profitable airlines in the world, regularly notching up earnings above the $500 million mark even in tough times. Its Executives are amongst the highest paid of any airline since the Wright brothers took to the sky 100 years ago.

    What its workers are asking for is very basic:
    1. Keep pace with inflation and
    2. Not have their jobs outsourced to cheap overseas slave labour.

    Mark my words Craig, if they loose this battle no worker anywhere in Australia is safe.

    Here is an article from Liam Bartlett of 60 Minutes which explains what the mainstream media are avoiding publishing ie what is going on behind the scenes. It also sums up the issue at hand OVERPROMISING AND UNDERDELIVERING:

    THERE’S an old maxim in the advertising world that goes something like this: Make sure you under-promise and over-deliver.

    In other words, when the consumer finally samples the product on the strength of the sell, they’ll be delighted by getting more than they expected.

    That’s why, especially for big corporations, it’s crucial to get it right before they spend a fortune flogging it. A case in point is the Qantas boardroom where common sense is not a commodity in great supply.

    No doubt you would have caught their latest multimillion-dollar campaign. How could you miss it? Warm and fuzzy images of kids and families extolling the virtues of on-demand entertainment, fully flat skybeds, revamped 747s and award-winning economy seats.

    What they don’t want to mention is the lousy morale, the tired old fleet that most of its customers are still carried on and the multi-tiered pay system that has many of its staff earning different rates for exactly the same job; a recipe for dissension that only looks to be getting worse.

    The man promoting this expensive illusion is chief executive Alan Joyce, who plans to axe 1000 current jobs and move a chunk of the airline’s operations to Asia so he can take advantage of rice-bowl economics

    In what he claims is essential to lower costs, Mr Joyce is desperate to establish a subsidiary in either Singapore or Malaysia which would allow him to employ Qantas pilots, flight attendants and maintenance staff on Asian pay scales clearly much lower wages and conditions than their Aussie counterparts would otherwise enjoy.

    So much for the spirit of Australia.

    Hypocritically, what Mr Joyce and the rest of the Qantas executive has never expressed is a willingness to earn their remuneration the same way.

    While he is adamant that an Asian-based full-service airline is the way of the future, Mr Joyce, like the British generals of old, is happy to farewell his troops from the docks. No Asian currency in his pay-packet; indeed, quite the contrary.

    He has just enjoyed an increase of 71 per cent in his annual package, pushing it to $5 million in crisp Aussie dollars. Aside from making him one of the highest-paid airline bosses in the world, that figure compares extremely unfavourably with the same position at some of Qantas’s key Asian rivals.

    Cathay Pacific, for example, pays its head honcho only $1.4 million to fill the same job. And then there’s Singapore Airlines, another excellent carrier with a very good safety record which pays its boss less than a third of Mr Joyce’s windfall.

    No wonder Qantas has a problem with increasing costs. And, according to the annual report which was released last week, it’s not just Mr Joyce. The rest of his management team also know the value of still calling Australia home, with the eight senior executives this year boasting a combined pay increase of almost 60 per cent.

    Not bad during a year when the share price performed like a sick dog. But the Qantas leadership has a history of taking a do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do approach.

    Take the last time they set up an overseas subsidiary to save money. Jetconnect was established in 2001 in New Zealand to service the trans-Tasman routes.

    It’s a wholly owned subsidiary which makes it possible for Qantas to pay all 600 staff, including about 100 pilots, in much cheaper Kiwi dollars. That means the pilots get about 30 per cent less than their Australian cousins and the rest of the workforce almost 40 per cent less.

    They all come under the New Zealand system which also means Qantas doesn’t have to pay them the Aussie superannuation levy.

    You and I still pay the same price for our tickets, though, and when we board the plane we wouldn’t even know we were flying Jetconnect. In fact, it’s probably the only airline in the world that doesn’t put its name on the plane.

    Mind you, there’s no room because the flying kangaroo is already on the tail. It’s marketed by Qantas and controlled by Qantas, you get a Qantas boarding pass issued by a Qantas computer, hand it to one of the cabin crew wearing a Qantas uniform and step on to a Qantas plane where you can watch Qantas videos and eat Qantas peanuts from the Qantas trolley.

    Thousands have done it this winter for a ski holiday and thousands more will do so during the World Cup but, according to Mr Joyce, this double standard is legitimate because Jetconnect is a New Zealand-registered company operating New Zealand-registered aircraft.

    If Mr Joyce has his way there will be hundreds more staff moving house to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, being paid in ringgit or Sing dollars while he lounges in Australian corporate headquarters feasting on highly favourable exchange rates.

    The picture would be complete if he relocated his desk to Jakarta and revalued his personal war chest in Indonesian rupiah, but this goose is not interested in equality with the ganders.

    Fortunately for him the unions have made some mistakes in their campaign to keep jobs onshore, including a few silly claims from the Pilots Association which only succeeded in making Qantas management appear half-sensible.

    But Mr Joyce is on the precipice of taking a once-great airline with a stellar reputation all the way to the bottom.

    What he wants is clearly to continue using the same patriotic clich aacs and stereotypes in selling Qantas but delivering a low-cost, low-rent product peopled by a low-income rent-a-crowd.

    That’s why the advertising is all wrong. The product is not what it seems.

    [email protected]

    Liam Bartlett is a reporter with 60 Minutes on Channel 9.

    • I’m stunned to see an article like that in the “mainstream” press – normally they’re well and truly on Qantas’ side, especially News.

      I’m not so stunned to see this article:

      which makes interesting reading.

      But don’t think for a second that the tide is turning – the big investors seem to love what the board and Joyce are doing.

    • Yes well Qantas are very good at controlling the media and trying to control the politicians as well.

      Free Ipads, bottles of grange and Chairman’s lounge memberships to influential people is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Andrew hit the nail on the head – you’re not buying a guaranteed seat on a plane – you’re buying ticket; a ticket which will at a later time be exchanged for a seat on a plane if that plane is to fly.

    Despite the fact that I am of course just another consumer, I’m getting sick of people becoming so entitled about the things that they purchased when they HAVE BEEN TOLD (or given plenty of opportunities to acknowledge) that there are conditions and stipulations, only to then turn around and cry fowl.

    In regards to the airline industry; I work for the opposition and don’t agree with how Qantas is being operated atm, but when articles point out plans for expansion into new markets, opening new facilities etc and paint them in a negative and almost slanderous way… I just wonder if we’re slipping towards becoming just like america.

    People DO realise that there are baggage handlers at Qantas that are on $95,000 plus incomes right? baggage handlers… the ones that are striking for another pay rise and better conditions (again).

    Qantas staff, on average, are paid more than our staff for equivalent job roles… and yet STILL strike… they’re the ones that are going to damage the company… not a CEO with an aggressive expansion plan that happens to focus on the evolving asian marketplace, lol.

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