National airline advocate two steps forward, one step back

CFA member CHOICE says consumers’ rights in flight still need stronger protection

CHOICE says the National Airline Customer Advocate Scheme will begin improving Australian consumers’ rights in flight, but falls short of the finished product.

CHOICE has welcomed the announcement of the scheme to start from 1 July this year and supports the decision that the Advocate’s office will not be located with an airline.

However, there is significant room for improvement, as the Advocate will not be able to make binding decisions and its oversight committee will be run by the airlines.

While the Advocate is a welcome start, we think it will leave the balance tilted too much in favour of airlines when difficult issues arise,” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.

“In the unpredictable air travel market, existing protections like credit card chargeback, insurance or the Australian Consumer Law fall woefully short of protecting consumers.  

“We saw this writ large in last October’s Qantas grounding, when many customers were left without access to the same protections as passengers stranded in Europe, and again earlier this year with the stranding of around 4,000 Air Australia passengers.”

CHOICE says consumer groups were denied to opportunity to work with industry on the Customer Advocate Scheme’s design, and this was a missed opportunity.

“CHOICE and other groups have a wealth of experience in working with various sectors on independent complaint resolution schemes, such as in the financial, energy and telecommunication markets,” says Ms Just.

“In this instance, we were offered the chance to be consulted after one year of the scheme’s implementation, and hopefully that will allow for further improvement.”