New research has shown that flight delays and cancellations are far and away the biggest airline problem facing travellers today.
A 2016 survey of 2500 recent air travellers, conducted by CHOICE using an independently sourced national sample, found that 22.6% of flyers had experienced a delayed or
cancelled flight in the past twelve months, a slight increase on the previous year's results.
Video: Don't just complain about flight delays. Complane.
There were decreases in every other complaint category, with the overall proportion of passengers experiencing problems with flights dropping from 38% to 31%. By a
large margin, delays and cancellations are still the most commonly seen flight problems. Out of all passengers with airline problems, 73% of them experienced
some sort of delay, almost half of them of two hours or more.
According to data collected by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 16% of domestic flights in 2016-17 failed to leave on
time. The worst performer was Jetstar, owned by the Qantas Group, with more than one in four flights (27.8%) experiencing a delay. In the last year Tigerair saw a spike in late departures, with 23.1% flights leaving late, up from 14.4% in 2015-16.
CHOICE is calling on airlines to provide fixed financial compensation to travellers who have flights cancelled for reasons within the airline's control.
Currently, it's up to the airline – and, sometimes the individual customer service representative – to determine what is fair compensation.
"It's time we held airlines financially accountable for delays and cancellations within their control," CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey. "Currently, there
is no set compensation for consumers in Australia when an airline keeps you grounded."
An industry-wide system of standardised compensation already exists in the European Union. There, compensation of up to $900 (650 euros) is
available for delayed passengers, depending on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight. In addition to financial compensation, European
consumers are offered refunds on flights, meals, refreshments, phone calls, emails and accommodation.
In the decade since its introduction, on-time performance at Heathrow Airport improved by 20.6%.
Don't just complain: Complane
Worryingly, 63% of survey respondents said that no action was taken by the airline when they experienced a delay, up from 52% in 2015. One in three said that the
airline's response to their holdup was poor, very poor or terrible.
"The airlines should take responsibility for their own mistakes and we don't believe passengers should be paying for an airline's delay," said Mr Godfrey.
"Compensation should be fair and standardised, no matter what airline you're on or what the customer service agent decides you deserve on the day."
"In light of our research findings, to remove the hassle from complaining directly to the airlines we are launching a website called complane.com.au. The
site allows consumers to complain directly to Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin or Tiger about a flight delay or cancellation," Mr Godfrey said.
Airlines reject call for fixed compensation
Airlines were keen to point out that across the industry on-time arrival and departure rates are improving, and that delays are often for safety reasons. Some also warned they would have to increase fares if they changed their compensation procedures.
"We have a number of measures in place to assist guests in the event of a delay or cancellation which, depending on the circumstances, can include providing hotel accommodation and food vouchers," said a Virgin Australia spokesperson.
A Tigerair spokesperson told CHOICE, "In the unlikely event of a disrupted service, Tigerair Australia works hard to get affected passengers to their destination as soon as possible and to minimize the inconvenience with a range of provisions to assist passengers to get to where they are going as soon as possible."
"We know how frustrating delays and cancellations are and we do everything in our power to avoid them," said a Qantas Group spokesperson. "Ultimately, passengers want to get to their destination more than they want compensation, so we've invested heavily in better systems to deal with weather and other delays."