When you purchase a flight, an airline is responsible for getting you to your destination. However, sometimes things go wrong, and a flight can be delayed or cancelled. When this happens, you may have rights under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
All your usual consumer rights apply when you purchase domestic flights and international flights departing Australia. Those rights also apply to international flights to Australia where they are booked through the Australian website of an airline.
Services such as flights come with automatic guarantees, including that services must be supplied within a reasonable time.
If something goes wrong, and your flight is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement depending on the circumstances, including:
- the length of the delay
- the reason for the delay or cancellation
- whether the airline was able to place you on another flight within a reasonable time.
Note: what constitutes a reasonable time will depend on the circumstances and may not be the same each time you travel.
If the airline refuses to fix the problem or takes too long, you may be able to have the service provided by another airline and recover the costs of the replacement flight.
When you purchase a flight you are entering into a contract with the airline. The terms and conditions of your flight booking and contract with the airline are set out in that airline’s Conditions of Carriage.
There are also fare rules or terms that apply to your booking depending on the type of fare you purchase (e.g. economy, business). These fare rules are important because they set out the specific terms of your booking, such as whether you can choose to cancel or change your flight time. The consumer guarantees do not apply if you change your mind or missed your flight.
Most airlines that operate in Australia have a compensation policy. These policies set out the compensation and assistance that an airline will provide to you if your flight is delayed or cancelled. You can find an airline’s compensation policy on their website.
Some airlines may provide you different levels of compensation and assistance depending on whether the flight cancellation or delay was caused by events within or outside an airline’s control.
The reason for a delay or cancellation is not always clearly explained to passengers. Airlines should be proactive and truthful in advising you of the reasons why your flight is delayed or cancelled, and whether you are entitled to compensation under the terms of the airline’s policy.
An airline’s compensation policy operates in addition to the consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law and cannot exclude them.
While airlines will endeavour to operate according to their published schedules, they do not guarantee flight times, and flight times do not form part of their contract of carriage with you.
If you need to be at your destination at a specific time (for example, if you are attending an important social event or have onward travel plans with another service provider such as a different airline or a cruise), you should:
- carefully consider your travel requirements
- allow yourself extra time to arrive at your destination
- take out travel insurance to cover you for any unexpected disruptions to your travel plans.
If you are affected by a flight delay or cancellation, and you’re not happy with the airline’s actions, you should:
- contact the airline to try and resolve the issue in the first instance
- take notes of any conversations and save emails
- if necessary, make a complaint to your state’s consumer protection agency
- contact your travel insurance provider
- consider reporting it to the ACCC.
Note: The ACCC is not a complaints handling body, but we can choose to take action where there are systemic breaches of the ACL.