Advocacy Group "Choice" Blasts Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tigerair

7th Dec 2016

According to the consumer advocacy group Choice, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission needs to respond to the respond to their investigation that, according to Choice, shows massive use of "no refund" signs, excessive cancellation fees (some of them up to $550 per one ticket) and a general lack of compensation for the mistakes made by the airlines themselves.

The Choice pointed the finger at the four biggest Australian carriers, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair, saying they have breached the Australian Consumer Law.

The Choice investigation found that, just in the past year, 31% of passengers had some problem with their flight, and 73% of those had their flights either cancelled or delayed. That's not including all the difficulties consumers have when they try to rebook, cancel a flight or claim a refund.

A spokesman for Choice Matt Levey said:

"Our investigation reveals the significant power imbalance between consumers and airlines, who are not being held to the same basic standards as other industries."

Choice has called the ACCC to conduct a review of the:

"Systemic consumer protection issues within Australia's airline industry," with a view to assessing the "true costs of and reasons for delays and cancellations, the effectiveness of complaints handling processes and the appropriateness of remedies provided following airline failures."

ACCC Chairman Ron Sims said they will review the report:

"Previous ACCC investigations into the industry have focused on specific issues such as drip pricing, where a headline price is advertised at the beginning of an online purchasing process and additional fees and charges, which may be unavoidable, are then incrementally disclosed."

He also added:

"Last week Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair Australia agreed to cease their practice of preselection [the automatic 'ticking' of add-ons] on domestic online booking platforms, following engagement with the ACCC."

The airlines mostly refuted the claims from Choice.

Qantas spokesperson said the report was "selective about facts and mischaracterized the law around refunds".

The spokesperson said:

"...Our Terms and Conditions are fully compliant with Australian Consumer Law and they are clearly disclosed on our website....we do offer refunds under certain circumstances."

Virgin Australia only said in a brief statement that it encourages consumers to acquaint themselves with the inclusion and exclusion rules of the fare type they are buying and that it has always complied with the Australian Consumer Law.

A spokesperson for Jetstar said the Choice report showed a gross misunderstanding of the consumer law as well as how airlines operate:

"While a supermarket or retailer can refund an item and then easily sell it again, airlines can never re-sell a seat after a flight has departed...That's why our cheapest fares are non-refundable or customers can pay extra to have more flexibility."

Tigerair said in its statement that all their conditions are available online for customers to see and added that passengers have a 24h cooling-off period after they book a flight in order to request a change free of charge.