Consumer watchdog Choice has sent a "super complaint" to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about the airline sector which it accuses of dodging myriad consumer laws - especially when it comes to the terms and conditions for online bookings. Here are five ways Aussie airlines currently mislead and rip off customers, as outlined by Choice.
"A super complaint is a mechanism we use when the level of complaints in a given sector – and the related issues – have reached epidemic proportions," Choice explained in an accompanying blog post.
"We're asking the ACCC to undertake a market study in order to shed light on an area of consumer services that has long been shrouded in secrecy. We want the airlines to hand over the details on such regular occurrences so the ACCC can better gauge the full impact on consumers and consider whether the compensation on offer – such as it is – lives up to the requirements of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL)."
Choice's main beef is that consumers are often left in the dark about their entitlements (or lack thereof) due to confusing and/or hidden airline policies. For example, within a ten minute online booking window, consumers are expected to read and understand a set of terms and conditions that would "take the average lawyer an hour or more to digest."
To highlight the shoddy practices and lack of remedies in the sector, Choice has outlined five real-world examples that typify how Australian airlines operate. Originally presented in quiz form, we've included the relevant portions below:
You've booked a super-saver e-deal flight to Bali. The airline has rescheduled your flight to leave the day after you originally booked. Will the airline give you a refund?
Answer: Unfortunately, your airline says they have no obligation to get you to your destination in any reasonable time frame. For example, Virgin says: "we do not guarantee flight times or schedules, and they do not form part of your contract of carriage".
How many words is Qantas' Conditions of Carriage?
Answer: Qantas' Conditions of Carriage has a whopping 13,025 words! A conservative estimate tells us that would take the average person 52 minutes to read, but the booking screen times out in 10 minutes. Virgin's has 10,861 words, Jetstar contains 9,602 and Tiger came in at the shortest length with 6,682 words.
Your flight to Los Angeles (bought at $1300AUD) with Virgin Australia is months away, but you've realised an important family event has come up and you're no longer able to travel. There's four months until the flight date so you think the airline will have plenty of time to resell your seat. You cancel your flight and all of a sudden you're slapped with a cancellation fee! How much was the fee?
Answer: There's a $550 cancellation fee for a fare that cost around $1300! Virgin's $550 fee was the highest cancellation fee we could find, followed by QANTAS' $400 cancellation fee for sale flights to Europe and North America. Jetstar 'Starter Max' only charges $50, while Jetstar 'Starter' and all Tigerair fares do not permit refunds at all.
You're backpacking around the world with a friend - the trip of a lifetime - and you've decided to skip your London to Berlin flight and take a train instead. It's a great chance to see the sights and experience more of Europe. At the airport in Berlin however, your airline now says that you can't fly home. Why?
Answer: When you skip a segment of your ticket airlines will enact a ‘no-show clause’ which voids all following flights on the same ticket. Several European countries have found these terms to be ‘unfair’ and they are prohibited – but for now if you skip a leg of your flight you might find yourself high and dry in a foreign city and out of pocket for the cost of a replacement flight home.
Ever been stuck in the terminal, just wishing you were somewhere else? Don't worry, us too. With up to 1 in 4 domestic flights delayed, it's a common problem facing Australian travellers. If your flight is delayed and it's the airline's fault, what compensation do airlines say you are entitled to receive?
Answer: Australian airlines say they aren’t obliged to give you any compensation if something goes wrong. Sometimes they’ll provide you with accommodation, meal vouchers, transport and replacement flights if they’re feeling nice, but other times they’ll provide you with no compensation at all. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. However, if you’re travelling in Europe and your flight is delayed by three hours or more you’ll have access to standard compensation of up to 600 euros.
Choice is known for its showboating tactics and we certainly don't always agree with its findings. Nevertheless, it can't be denied that airlines offer piss-poor compensation when almost anything goes wrong. You can read the full "Fare Play?" super complaint here.
What do you think about Choice's anti-airline campaign? Share your thoughts in the comments!