Australia lags behind the world as US announces new passenger refund rights

New laws in the US mean airlines must now automatically give cash refunds to passengers for cancelled and significantly delayed flights.

The new rules have been described as the biggest expansion of passenger rights in air travel’s history.

Under the new rules, airlines cannot decide for themselves how long a delayed flight is.

The US Department of Transport (DOT) says delays any longer than three hours on a domestic flight and six hours on an international flight will trigger the rights to a refund.

The airline can offer alternative transport or travel credits, but passengers have the right to refuse them for a full refund instead.

DOT will also require airlines to give cash refunds if your bags are lost and not delivered within 12 hours.

Lagging behind

Unfortunately, as many of us found during COVID lockdowns, Australia still lags behind much of the world when it comes to compensation for flight delays or cancellations. 

In the UK and Europe, legislation entitles passengers to monetary compensation, provided the delay or cancellation was not caused by an “extraordinary circumstance” such as bad weather, security risks or industrial action.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says consumer guarantees cover basic rights for passengers and tourists, including the guarantee that services will be provided within a reasonable time after being delayed or cancelled.

However, as Qantas’s action showed, those refunds were often only offered as credits that were vastly in the airline’s favour. For example, passengers were only offered the most expensive flight options for their credits or limited flight opportunities. 

In fact, the ACCC’s own website says if a consumer must book a new flight with another airline because the airline they had originally booked with had no reasonable replacement flights, they may have a right to reimbursement from the original airline for the cost of that flight.

ACCC ‘rules’

The key word there is ‘may’. 

The ACCC is also vague on what is a ‘reasonable time’, saying that’s up to the courts to decide. Yeah, because plenty of people with a flight to the Gold Coast have the ready money to take a massive airline like Qantas to court over a $500 return flight.

The ACCC makes it clear that the ‘conditions of carriage’ that you agree to when you buy a flight are the airline’s own policies and, while Australians have consumer guarantees, passengers are responsible for checking the terms and conditions of their flight.

The ACCC recommends booking a class of fare that offers better options if there is a delay or cancellation – not always available, and often expensive – and allowing extra time at the airport and between flight connections.

Not sure how turning up early at the airport is going to improve your chances of a refund, but there you go. 

Consumer law expert Dr James Gilchrist Stewart of RMIT’s graduate school of business and law told The Guardian the “fair and logical” UK and EU model could be adapted to Australia.

“In the EU and UK, [the regulations] seem to work for the consumer, but in Australia, they seem to work for the airline,” he said.

Have you had to fight for compensation after a delayed or cancelled flight? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: How to be a better passenger, from a flight attendant

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -