Aussie airlines could soon be forced to pay for delays

Earlier this year I was due to fly home to Sydney from Auckland in time to catch my teenage son’s first band performance. We’re not talking about a school concert band, but his very first time playing drums with his own band at a local bowling club – a real crowd, real tickets, real excitement.

But as soon as I reached Auckland Airport, that dreaded voice crackled over the speakers. “This is an announcement for passengers travelling on Qantas flight 146 to Sydney…”

I knew it. Delayed. I put my head in my hands and cried.

It’s a scenario that thousands of us have faced while flying with Australian airlines, particularly as airlines have struggled to get their operations back to full service since Covid. People have missed the unmissable: priceless life events like weddings or funerals. Others critical business engagements. Some have simply had a dream holiday destroyed or significantly impacted because of actions beyond their control. And while all carriers have processes in place to refund the costs associated with delayed or cancelled flights in certain circumstances, there’s currently no government-mandated scheme offering compensation – in addition to out-of-pocket costs – to flyers for the heartbreak of the stolen time they can never get back.

If my situation had taken place in the EU, it would be a different story. I probably would have been entitled to monetary compensation – something between 250 and 600 euros if the delay was more than three hours. If it was even longer, I may have been entitled to a refund, even if I caught the flight when it eventually took to the skies.

That wasn’t an option for me. While Australian consumer law means flights can be refunded if they’re cancelled, the airlines are not obligated to do anything if a flight is merely delayed, beyond covering the odd expense like taxis or hotels. Missed your kid’s christening or your dad’s 75th? Too bad, so sad.

Or is it? This may all be about to change. The federal government is considering adopting a scheme that could mirror the one that exists in Europe. Details are still under wraps, but we’ll find out more when its Aviation White Paper is released early next year. If it goes ahead, we might hear a lot fewer “This is an announcement for…” call-outs over the airport speakers as airlines work harder to make sure flights run on time.

At least, that’s the simple way of looking at it.

In fact, aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas from believes that when it comes to compensation schemes with airlines, we should be careful what we wish for.

“If airlines are forced to pay compensation, they’ll pass those costs on to passengers,” Thomas says. That will only mean higher airfares across the board.

He also queries whether airline compensation schemes will provide any real incentive to airlines to minimise delays more than they currently do. “Airlines want to run a tight schedule already,” he says. “Some of the commentary seems to be ‘they just delay flights for fun and couldn’t give a rat’s’.” The reality is, he says, that it’s in an airline’s best interests to run its operations as efficiently as possible. One delay at a major city can throw the entire system into chaos for the rest of the day. That’s already costing airlines money they don’t want to spend. And whatever the incentives, no one can make a flight take off any faster if a runway’s closed for bad weather or a pilot’s out of action with an illness.

It’s not an argument I would have been interested in hearing as I sat slumped at Auckland Airport and watched the minutes tick down on the clock, every second taking me further and further away from one of the most important moments in my son’s life. But in hindsight I understand it.

My story had a small silver lining. When we finally touched down in Sydney, I practically ran people over exiting the plane. I left a friend to collect my bag and sped off to the venue, getting there just as my son and his band stepped off the stage. I didn’t see the performance, but I was there for the hugs and cheers and the glorious glow of the aftermath.

And the fact is, a few hundred dollars would have meant nothing to me compared to that.

Originally published as Aussie airlines could soon be forced to pay for delays

Article source:

Leave a Reply