Seven ways to fix the travel ‘cancellation chaos’

The NSW outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has once again shattered confidence in even the simplest domestic travel trips.

To provide Australians with more confidence when booking, consumer group CHOICE has called on Australia’s governments to fix the ‘cancellation chaos’, starting by making it easier for travellers to obtain refunds.

CHOICE surveyed more than 4400 Australians whose travel plans were disrupted by COVID-19 and shared their experiences in the report Consumer protection for Australian travellers: a plan for clarity, consistency and fairness.

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Report author Alison Elliot said that making sure all customers received the same treatment was imperative to making the system fairer.

“Many Australians who had booked travel have faced inconsistent and unfair treatment since COVID-19 emerged in early 2020,” Ms Elliot explained.

“While some people reported receiving incredible help and assistance from travel businesses, others waited more than six months for a refund or encountered appalling customer service.

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“Australians were forced to navigate cancellation chaos rather than receiving clear and practical advice on their rights,” she said.

“Many people are now grappling with impractical limitations on travel vouchers and unfair solutions to a problem they didn’t cause.

“Just like the EU and UK, we should have clear rights to refunds when travel plans are cancelled.”

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The CHOICE travel cancellations survey found 53 per cent of respondents waited more than three months for a resolution, with nearly a quarter waiting over six months.

“Waiting over six months to get a refund is far too long, even in pandemic conditions,” Ms Elliot said.

“Looking at the experiences of over 4400 Australians, we saw major problems that governments have the ability to fix.

“We need stronger and clearer consumer protections to help Australians have the confidence to book travel in the future.”

Australians also shared their stories of major travel brands hiding behind complicated terms and conditions, passing the buck and befuddling customers out of asserting their rights. Flight Centre, Airbnb and Qantas featured heavily in the survey feedback.

“It is not okay that the big players in this industry don’t have better systems and higher standards of service,” Ms Elliot said.

“The recent lockdowns in a number of states are a reminder that this problem is not going away.”

CHOICE’s seven-point plan calls for the federal and state governments to implement:

  • easier travel refunds
  • minimum voucher/credit rights
  • a mandatory industry code for all airlines and large travel providers
  • a travel and tourism industry ombudsman
  • a mandatory information standard at the time of booking
  • an ACCC market study into the travel and tourism sector
  • a national travel restrictions website.

“Setting fairer consumer protections for travel services will be a shared responsibility of federal state and territory consumer affairs ministers,” Ms Elliot said.

“As these ministers take stock of what happened in 2020, we encourage them to ensure that people have better protections in the future.

“These seven measures can help improve Australian’s rights in an uncertain time, improve confidence in the travel sector once we can all travel again and, most importantly, help people get back their money in times of great stress and disappointment.”

Australians can sign CHOICE’s petition for better travel rights at:

Have you been affected by ‘cancellation chaos’ during the past 18 months? What is the longest you had to wait for a refund? Are you still waiting? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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