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Flight delays and cancellations Air Passenger rights for Australian domestic flights

September 4, 2013 Headline News, Travel Law 3 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59The Flight Delayed sign is guaranteed to send anxiety levels soaring for air travellers.

According to the Airline Customer Advocate, 18% of the complaints it received were about flight delay or cancellation, in the December half year (2012) (source 2012 Annual Report)

This level of complaints is high considering the policies the airlines have in place to compensate air travellers for flight delay and cancellation.EGT_Artical Banner B 250x250

This article examines the current policies applied by Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Tiger Airways and the role played by the Airline Customer Advocate to help resolve consumer complaints that the airlines cannot resolve themselves.

You be the judge whether the current policies need to be improved to meet the expectations of the travelling public.

What is an on time flight?

According to BITRE, a flight departure is on time if it departs the gate within 15 minutes of the scheduled departure time, and a flight arrival is on time if it arrives at the gate within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time shown in the carrier’s schedule. Source: The Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

It seems that Australian airlines have difficulty with on time flights, even with this loose definition.

The 2012-2013 BITRE annual statistics for on time departures are: Qantas – achieved the highest level at 84.9%, followed by Virgin Australia at 81.2%, Jetstar 75.6% and Tiger Airways at 79.6%. The regional airlines were led by Regional Express (REX) at 85.8%, followed by QantasLink at 78.7% and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines at 78.6%.

Policy illustration – How do airlines make sure departures are on time?

  • Engineers’ strike (July 2011). QF consolidated services and flew larger Boeing 767 aircraft on some routes in and out of Melbourne to ensure that “the vast majority of customers remain on scheduled services and others can be moved onto flights within 15 minutes of their original departure time”.

The Air Passenger’s rights to compensation for flight delays and cancellations

There is no air passenger rights legislation or code of conduct in Australia which provides basic guarantees of what air travellers should expect for flight delays and cancellations. For Australian domestic flights, the airlines set their own rules.

No airline guarantees scheduled departure times or arrival times.

No airline provides compensation to passengers for delays of up to 15 minutes.

Each airline has their own policy to give passengers rights in the event of flight delays and cancellations based on their own interpretation of the Australian Consumer Law for delays above 15 minutes.

Passenger rights are limited: Airlines do not accept responsibility for costs or expenses a passenger may suffer as a result of flight delay or cancellation over and above what their policies provide. For example, new connecting flight bookings, the cost of upgrades, taxi fares, medical expenses are not reimbursed by the airlines.

Each participating airline in the Australian Airline Customer Advocate scheme is required to provide a Customer Charter to the Airline Customer Advocate. The Customer Charters draw from the airline’s Conditions of Carriage and cover cancellation/refund requests, flight delay or cancellation, fees or charges, and terms and conditions or carriage.

The Airline Customer Charter policies for delay and cancellation

A summary of the Customer Charter policies for the major Australian airlines for delay and cancellation, and the number of complaints the Advocate has received for delays and cancellations per 100,000 passengers carried are:

Qantas (QF) has fewest complaints – 0.11 per 100,000. This is the Qantas policy –

  • Advance warning – if a delay of 45 minutes or more is expected, or if the flight is cancelled, at least 2 hours ahead of the scheduled departure time, QF will contact the passenger.
  • Cancellation – QF will use reasonable endeavours to re-book the passenger on an alternative flight on a QF service at no additional cost to the passenger. If this is not suitable, then QF will refund the full fare.
  • Delay overnight for reasons within its control (technical problems, operational issues), or an overnight disruption for reasons outside its control (bad weather, natural disasters) away from the home port – QF will provide meals, accommodation and transfers.

Policy illustrations – industrial disputes, volcanic ash clouds, weather conditions

  • Airport workforce staged a 2 hour walk-out (September 2011). As a result QF was forced to cancel two flights as well as delay 39 other services. QF contacted all affected customers and made other arrangements.
  • Ash cloud from Chile Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano affected Trans-Tasman flights (June 2011). QF and JQ cancelled flights for the day and scheduled supplementary services to help clear the backlog for the next day.
  • Gusting winds, low cloud and poor visibility at Sydney airport (March 2013). QF and VA cancelled inwards and outwards flights , delayed flights and re-booked passengers.
  • Baggage handlers, ground staff and other employees on strike over pay disputes (September 2011). QF cancelled up to 28 flights and delayed other 27. QF added an extra Boeing 737-400 flight between Sydney and Auckland.

Virgin Australia (VA) has the second fewest complaints – 0.23 per 100,000. This is the Virgin Australia policy –

  • Advance warning – if a flight is cancelled at least 2 hours before the scheduled departure time, VA will contact the passenger.
    • Delay and Cancellation – flight disruption for issues within its control (aircraft maintenance or crew shortages), VA will re-book on another VA service at no additional cost. If this is not suitable, then VA will credit or refund the full fare. If delayed overnight in a port away from home, VA will arrange and pay for hotel accommodation, transfers and meals (limits apply).
  • Delay and Cancellation – for issues outside its control (bad weather, airport terminal closures or security incidents), VA will re-book on another VA service at no further cost. If this is not suitable, then VA will credit or refund the full fare.
  • Tarmac Delay – on board the aircraft, VA will provide water, food, lavatory facilities and urgent medical requirements.

Policy illustrations – reservation system crash; airport weather conditions

  • Worldwide crash of Computer Reservation System (Sabre GDS) (August 2013) The outage lasted between 2 and 3 hours and caused delays and cancellations of about 30 minutes and up to more than 1 hour. VA apologized to passengers, arranged new travel plans for stranded passengers, provided $8 meal voucher and water bottles, and arranged accommodation for customers who were stranded overseas.
  • Lack of wind at Wellington airport (August 2013) delayed a Virgin Australia departure by 2 hours. VA asked 20 passengers to voluntarily give up their seats and catch a later flight to lighten the aircraft for take-off. They offered a free nights’ accommodation and a meal in a hotel.

Jetstar (JQ) has the next fewest complaints – 0.59 per 100,000. This is the Jetstar policy –

  • Advance warning – if a delay of more than 30 minutes is expected before the day of departure, or of more than 45 minutes on the day of departure, or if a cancellation, JQ will advise the passenger or the travel agent via SMS or a phone call and leave a message.
  • Delay of more than 45 minutes on the day of departure, or Cancellation (‘schedule changes’) – JQ will re-book the passenger on the next available JQ flight (if it has 2 hours prior notice) at no additional cost to the passenger. If JQ cannot book on the next available flight on the day due to depart, JQ will arrange a booking on another airline on the same day, or on the next available JQ flight, or give a fare refund.

Tiger Airways (TT) has the most complaints – 1.57 per 100,000. This is the Tiger Airways Disruption Policy –

  • Advance warning – for flights rescheduled before the date of departure by more than 30 minutes, TT will contact the passenger.
  • Delay and Cancellation – TT will reschedule the passenger on the next available TT flight, without additional charge. If the re-booking is not reasonably acceptable, a fare credit will be available for up to 6 months. And if the reschedule is within its control, TT will offer a fare refund.

Qantas and Virgin Australia offer refreshments for delays of more than 2 hours.

Airlines are prepared to waive their conditions if the destination has been affected by a natural disaster.

Policy illustration – earthquake

  • After the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, Qantas and Virgin Airways allowed passengers to re-route, return, re-book, change destinations, defer travel with a fare credit, receive a refund, all without fee.

Regional Express (REX) has no complaints. This is the Regional Express Policy –

  • Advance warning – for flights delayed by more than 60 minutes, REX will contact the passenger by text message in advance. Passengers can log onto the website to track delay status.
  • Delays – if within its control of more than 90 minutes, REX will offer light refreshments where the location permits.
  • Cancellations (and also delays) – will be caused by situations beyond its control, such as bad weather, airport congestion and technical problems.


The Australian Customer Charters focus on giving the passenger rights for re-booking for flights which are significantly delayed or cancelled. The passenger entitlements tend to be more generous if the delay is within the airline’s control, as opposed to outside of the airline’s control.

The variations between the policies, particularly fare credits and refunds, illustrate how each airline sees market forces operating.

Australian Airlines do not offer financial compensation, not even frequent flyer points. If an Australian is stranded in Europe they receive cash compensation under the air passengers rights law – Regulation (EC) 261/2004 which provides cash compensation of €250 for flights up to 1,500 km, and €400 for flights above 1,500 km, in the event that the flight is cancelled or arrival is delayed by more than 3 hours and there are no extraordinary circumstances.

IATA has criticized Regulation (EC) 261/2004 as being too generous and a financial burden for airlines. The fact that market forces have not made it attractive for airlines outside of Europe to provide this compensation voluntarily would indicate that IATA’s criticism is well-founded.

Is there room for improvement for the airlines in treating air passengers for delays and cancellations? Yes, especially in terms of advance warning and ongoing status information and assistance at the airport.

Written by : Anthony J. Cordato & Henriette Dobler

Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Mariella Chessa says:

    last month I flight with Emirates to Itlay. I arrived one entire day later, I had to sleep at the airport on the chairs, all what they gave to the passengers were some soft drinks and muffins. And, at this point I was too late for the reason I was going to Europe……
    At the way back same story, but only 4 hours delay.
    Apparently the problem, since two days before my flight and during the next two weeks was the fog.
    There is any authority I can contact for a refund or something I can do?
    All this happened the 23rd of February and the 5th of March 2014.

  2. Fury says:

    Australian airlines suck. They have no sense of responsibility. The flights are changed all the time for no reason. This would be considered a human right violation in other countires. The airline has no right to mess up with other people’s life like this. The airlines in this country should be brought to international court for killing countless hours of human life.

  3. Greg says:

    Check out to claim for European delays.

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