Aussie travellers grow more unhappy with airlines

CHOICE's latest travel survey finds growing dissatisfaction with airlines, car rental companies and travel insurers.

Plane simple

The level of airline service descended steadily in CHOICE's latest annual travel trends survey, with satisfaction ratings for all domestic airlines down since the 2016 survey. Jetstar once again came rock bottom in travellers' rankings. Holiday problems plagued 48% of Aussie travellers in the 12 months to July 2017 with a third of those having problems with flights.

"Despite that, many aren't taking up the fight with their airline," says CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey.

Aussie travellers are so fed-up with the airline industry, two-thirds of them didn't complain when they were left stranded. 37% of people who didn't complain said they thought their complaints wouldn't achieve anything, while 34% thought the complaints process itself is a hassle.

Consumer compensation

The most common flight problems experienced were delays and cancellation, with people flying on budget airline Jetstar more likely to experience a flight delay or cancellation.

63% of flight problems experienced were delays and cancellations

Although you book your flight to leave and land at a specific time, in Australia, airlines don't guarantee those flight times.

And if your flight is delayed or cancelled, it's at the airlines' discretion if they provide any compensation – six in ten people told us their airline took no action. Contrast that to the European model, a clear-cut scheme where flyers receive a set compensation amount (depending on flight distance) if a flight arrives three hours or more after it was scheduled, is cancelled or overbooked.

"With delays and cancellations a top problem for Aussie travellers, CHOICE is calling on the domestic airline industry to provide fixed financial compensation to travellers who have flights cancelled or delayed for reasons within the airline's control," says 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.

"Whether it's a missed business meeting, family dinner or even a wedding, Aussie travellers shouldn't have to pay for the airline's mistakes."

Travel insurance

Three quarters of travellers said they were covered by travel insurance for their last international holiday. But younger people seem less likely to take out travel insurance, with only 51% of travellers aged under 22 stating they were covered.

Coinciding with 2016 research commissioned by the Insurance Council of Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade into Australians' travel insurance behaviour, our research finds travellers have little understanding of their travel insurance. CHOICE's 2016 Consumer Pulse survey found 42% of consumers read none or almost none of the terms and conditions when signing up to a product or service online.

Travellers believe they're covered for events they're unlikely to have cover for – two out of three (66%) assume their travel insurance covers for insolvency or bankruptcy of travel agents or providers, however less than a third of policies actually provide this cover.

CHOICE reviews of 230 travel insurance policies combined with case studies highlight serious issues with travel insurance exclusions and consumer understanding of policies, including in relation to mental health, specialty sports and alcohol exclusions.

Car hire

43% of people rated car-hire companies' response to their complaint 'Poor to terrible'

The survey found consumers have the greatest dissatisfaction with car rental companies' response to complaints (43%), closely followed by travel insurers (41%) and airlines (38%). Our CHOICE Help consumer rights advice service regularly receives enquiries related to unfair practices in the car hire industry.

Car hire contracts are complex documents, particularly for people with English as a second language. And when you're standing in a car rental agency queue at a crowded airport after a long flight, your time and capacity to read and understand a 24-page 10,900-word hire agreement is limited.

So we're expanding our research into consumers' experiences of the car hire industry with an analysis of car hire contracts, loss damage waiver and excess reduction products, customer service and booking processes.

Survey details

The Online Research Unit, on behalf of CHOICE, surveyed 2506 Australians aged 18–75 years from 19 June to 12 July 2017 who took a domestic flight for a holiday in the past 12 months and at least one international flight in the last two years. The data has been weighted to be representative of the Australian population as per ABS Census 2016.