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Airline compensation policies
Most airlines that operate in Australia have a compensation policy published on their website. These policies set out the compensation and other help that an airline will provide to consumers if a flight is delayed or cancelled, such as accommodation and meal costs.
Some airlines may provide different levels of compensation and assistance, depending on whether the cancellation or delay was caused by events within or outside their control.
Airlines should be proactive and truthful in advising consumers of the reasons a flight is delayed or cancelled, and what compensation they may be entitled to under both the airline’s policy and the consumer guarantees.
A consumer’s rights under an airline compensation policy are on top of their rights under consumer guarantees. An airline’s policy can’t take away consumer guarantee rights.
Consumer rights if a flight is delayed or cancelled
The basic consumer rights known as consumer guarantees apply to:
- flights within Australia
- international flights departing Australia
- international flights to Australia booked through an airline’s Australian website.
These rights apply regardless of whether the consumer books any of the above flights:
- directly with the airline
- through a travel agent, or
- through a third party or intermediary, such as a booking platform or travel package provider.
The guarantee that services are provided within a reasonable time is especially relevant to flights. When a flight is delayed or cancelled, it may mean this guarantee has not been met, depending on:
- the length of the delay
- whether the delay or cancellation was within the airline’s control
- whether the airline moved the consumer to a different flight, and if so the timing of that different flight.
If that replacement flight is not within a reasonable time, the airline must give the consumer their choice of a different replacement flight or refund. If the consumer had to book a flight with another airline because the first airline had no reasonable replacement flights, they may have a right to reimbursement from the original airline for the cost of that flight.
There is no one set definition of what will be ‘a reasonable time’ because many different factors may be relevant in each individual case. If the consumer and airline disagree about what is reasonable, the consumer can take the problem further.
Airlines do not have to give replacement flights or refunds under the consumer guarantees if:
- consumers change their mind or miss their flight due to no fault of the airline
- the actions of a third party prevents the airlines from supplying their flight. For example, where airlines cancelled flights due to the government travel restrictions that were implemented in response to COVID-19.
In the above situations, the consumers’ right to a refund or replacement flight will generally depend on the terms and conditions of their booking.
Flight terms and conditions
When a consumer buys a flight ticket, they are entering into a contract with the airline. The terms and conditions of the contract are set out in the airline’s conditions of carriage. Terms and conditions will vary between airlines and different fare classes.
Airline conditions of carriage do not include a guarantee of flight times. Although airlines must meet the consumer guarantee of providing the service within a reasonable time, consumers should not assume that a plane will meet its exact advertised schedule.