Qantas, Virgin among domestic airlines slammed by Choice

Queenstown, New Zealand - January 18, 2014: Passengers check-in at Jetstar Airways counter on January 18, 2014. The airline was established by Qantas in 2003 as a low-cost domestic subsidiary.

Consumer group Choice has called upon the ACCC to intervene in what it believes is breach of conduct by Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tigerair against its passengers.

Choice called on consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after identifying “systemic breaches” of the Australian consumer law on ways the four domestic airlines are operating.

The group has issue with “excessive cancellation fees of up to $550 per ticket, widespread use of “no refund” signs, and a lack of compensation for the airlines’ mistakes”, the SMH reports.

“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 spokesman Matt Levey told the paper.

The ABC news details the 6 key issues the Choice investigation has uncovered:

1. No refund policy

Three out of four major domestic airlines have a blanket no refund policy, contradicting consumer law that gives everyone the right to a refund, the group said as the ABC reports.

“We often see other businesses in other industries held to task for exactly these sorts of practices; it’s time that airlines cleaned up their act,” Levey said.

2. Exorbitant cancellation fees

Airlines are charging cancellation fees of up to 100% of the ticket, or up to $550 per ticket, the paper reports.

However, Levey said changing airline fees, such as excessive credit card surcharges, was more difficult than in other industries.

“Even in recent days we’ve seen Jetstar reluctantly remove the pre-ticked boxes from its booking process,” he told the paper.

“They [the airlines] are not responsive to consumer needs in the way that other industries are.”

3. No accountability

“Customers are not being offered any compensation for having their flights cancelled or delayed,” per the ABC report.

Choice said its investigation found Australians were not being offered fixed compensation if their flight was cancelled or delayed within the airline’s control.

4. Zero responsibility

“Airlines are dodging responsibility to deliver flights on time despite charging premium prices for peak flight times.”

5. No access to credit

“Passengers who are given credit on future flights are not being given access to the credit, Choice says”, the paper reports.

6. Ticket voids

“People who miss a leg of a flight are having multiple tickets voided.”

Levey said these cancellations had been banned in other countries, such as Germany and Spain.

To resolve issues, Levey said airlines could act immediately without any action by the ACCC.

“So it’s not all about the regulator getting involved. If the airlines wanted to actually start treating their customers better they could get rid of the blanket no refund sign,” he said, the paper reports.

“They could make their terms and conditions way clearer and simpler to read, they could clearly communicate their cancellation fees and actually reduce them to reasonable levels that reflected the cost of reselling that flight.”

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