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Airline complaints falling on deaf ears

CHOICE urges the federal government to establish an airlines ombudsman

10 February 2018

Consumer group CHOICE is calling on the federal government to establish an airline ombudsman that is funded by the industry as new research shows travellers are getting increasingly fed up with unresolved complaints.

The latest data from CHOICE's flight delays and cancellations tool has found that Jetstar was the worst offender when it comes to leaving their passengers stuck at the gate, with 40% of total complaints.[1]

Qantas made up 26% of total complaints, while Virgin Australia had 20%.

"The data also found that 30% of passengers who complained weren't given a reason for the delay or cancellation, or weren't sure why they were left grounded," says CHOICE Head of Media, Tom Godfrey.

Seven percent of passengers were left stranded by their airline overnight.

CHOICE has identified numerous issues with airline complaints handling, including restrictions on the ability for consumers to seek remedies when something goes wrong.

"We know that most passengers won't take up a fight with the airline when something goes wrong because they've been conditioned for years that they won't get compensation," says Mr Godfrey.

CHOICE found the main reasons passengers do not make a complaint are because they doubt that complaints will achieve anything (37%) and there is a perception that the complaint process is a hassle (34%).[2]

Consumers who want to take their complaint all the way face a number of problems:

  • The Airline Customer Advocate is unable to independently enforce its decisions, leaving passengers in the lurch when the airline refuses to compensate them.
  • Consumers would have to take court action in the Federal Court system – facing thousands of dollars in filing fees.

"The airline industry is failing to keep travellers grievance free. That's why we're calling on the federal government to establish an airline ombudsman which can actually regulate the industry," says Mr Godfrey.

"What we need is an ombudsman with teeth who can actually call these airlines to account."

CHOICE's pre-budget submission to the federal government also calls on the establishment of a fixed flight delays and cancellation compensation scheme, which will see passengers fairly compensated when the airline makes a mistake.

"The industry should provide fixed financial compensation to travellers who have flights cancelled for reasons within the airline's control," says Mr Godfrey.

"An industry-wide system of standardised compensation already exists in the European Union so it's hardly a stretch for Australian consumers to get the same guarantees for a service they paid for."

Media contact: Tom Godfrey, CHOICE, Head of Media and Spokesperson: 0430 172 669

[1] More than 1100 eligible complaints logged at from July 2016 to February 2018

[2] CHOICE, September 2017, 'Australian Consumers in the Travel Market – Annual travel trends report – phase 4 of the CHOICE travel project', available at