My flight has been cancelled

Cancelled and delayed flights are an unfortunate reality for travellers. But are airlines treating customers fairly when things go wrong?

What are your rights when you fly and something goes wrong? I asked myself that question recently when flying to Melbourne for a job interview. My plane was delayed for six hours, then cancelled, with no guarantee the airline would cover my accommodation costs. Last year Choice called on Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) to investigate whether the airline industry treats customers fairly.

So what do Australian airlines promise customers?

When you buy an airline ticket you enter into a contract with the airline. That contract is contained in the Conditions of Carriage, available at the checkout in the online booking process, on the airline’s website and via a link in your e-ticket upon purchase.

What are my rights if my flight is delayed?

Airlines in Australia do not guarantee flight times. This means they are under no obligation to get you to your destination at the time given on your ticket.

Generally, under airline Conditions of Carriage, when faced with a delay or cancellation your rights depend upon the reason for the delay or cancellation.

Bad weather or a reason outside the airline’s control.

This depends on the airline’s Conditions of Carriage.

Generally, if a flight is delayed or cancelled due to bad weather, volcano ash or some other reason outside the airline’s control, the airline may place you on the next available flight but will not compensate you for any financial loss you have suffered as a result of the delay. This means you will have to cough up the extra money for food or a hotel while waiting for the next flight.

If you do not accept being placed on the next available flight, the airline may offer you a refund or credit.

For a reason within the airline’s control, such as crew or mechanical issues.

The level of compensation on offer varies between airlines, so check your airline’s Conditions of Carriage.

Generally, when a flight is delayed or cancelled for reasons within an airline’s control, the airline may place you on the next available flight and some (but not all) airlines will compensate you for any extra expense due to the delay.

This means you may be provided with refreshment vouchers and accommodation while you wait for the next flight. If the next available flight is unacceptable to you, the airline may offer you a refund or a credit to use later.

What protection do I have under Australian consumer laws?

Australian consumer law aims to protect consumers from unfair business practices. Under these laws consumers can be refunded and/or compensated for loss suffered because of a major failure by a business service.

So are Australian airlines complying with consumer laws or just paying lip service?

Find out more about Choice’s concerns here. And more about ACCC here.

This page was last updated on May 30, 2017