Alison Elliott standing by Sydney Airport - Images: https://sites.google.com/choice.com.au/shonkys2021
Consumer group CHOICE has awarded the Airline Customer Advocate a Shonky Award for leaving Australians stranded.
Shonkys ceremony available for download here: https://sites.google.com/choice.com.au/shonkys2021
Airline Customer Advocate images and video: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1vOCwofuoaNyS6WxyGATABvtI41Qhm9cE?usp=sharing
The Airline Customer Advocate says it's a free service to facilitate "the resolution of current unresolved complaints about airline services."
"It's an airline-industry funded scheme that's meant to solve your problems, but really it's a forwarding service. The Advocate can't look at your problem and make an independent decision. Instead, it will forward your complaint back to the airline, asking nicely for the airline to respond to you in 20 days. And that's about it," says CHOICE consumer rights expert Alison Elliott.
"You might as well put your complaint in a shredder than waste your time with the Airline Customer Advocate."
"This is an advocate that doesn't advocate. It's window dressing to help the airline industry pretend it cares about managing complaints. In reality, it can't investigate your complaint, it can't make an independent decision and it has no power to make airlines do anything."
In a recent nationally representative survey, only 32% of Australians said they were aware of the service, and only 15% had used it.
And even worse, during the COVID-19 crisis, the Airline Customer Advocate didn't accept complaints about the major issues of the day, including:
- Travellers being offered a credit instead of a refund, a common problem for pandemic-affected travel.
- Poor customer service and delays in getting a response from airlines.
- Delays in receiving refunds.
CHOICE asked the Airline Customer Advocate how many travellers they helped in 2020 and 2021. CHOICE did not receive a response.
"We're not sure what the Airline Customer Advocate actually did or achieved over the COVID-19 crisis," says Elliott.
"From CHOICE's extensive travel survey this year, we heard from thousands of Australians who struggled to get their money back and received poor customer service from the airlines. The height of the COVID-19 crisis was the time we most needed an independent advocate to help us navigate these tough times. Instead, the Airline Customer Advocate left Australians stranded."
CHOICE says the industry is long overdue for dispute resolution with teeth.
"Australians need an independent airline ombudsman. One that has the resources to investigate complaints, the power to make binding decisions and independence to keep the industry in-check. Until then, the Airline Customer Advocate is merely a fake advocate designed to help the airlines avoid accountability," says Elliott.
Join CHOICE's campaign for stronger travel rights at: choice.com.au/travelcampaign
The CHOICE Shonkys 2021 are:
Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles - a shonky sugar bomb
Humm - for unsafe lending
The Breville Foodcyler - a $2,000 compost bin
Knock-off Bladeless Fans - generic fans with no windpower
The Airline Customer Advocate - for leaving us stranded
Main media release and more Shonkys information available at: https://sites.google.com/choice.com.au/shonkys2021
Media contact: 0430 172 669, firstname.lastname@example.org
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the Shonkys event is available as a pre-record.
CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland and CHOICE Managing Editor Marg Rafferty are available for interview. Other media releases, photos, video and graphics available for media use here: https://sites.google.com/choice.com.au/shonkys2021
Survey of 1,024 people conducted online between 31 August and 6 September 2021. Responses were weighted to be nationally representative to the latest ABS census data.