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Flight delays, cancellations the new norm: What you can do

·4-min read
People waiting for their bags at the airport
Lost baggage has also become a fairly standard experience for Aussie travellers of late. (Source: Getty)

For anyone who has caught a plane in the past few months, it will come as no surprise that in June, the Australian airline industry recorded its worst on-time performance figures in decades.

Only 61.9 per cent of domestic flights (Jetstar, Qantas, QantasLink, Rex Airlines, Virgin Australia and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines) arrived on time, according to a government report.

Flight cancellations have also become increasingly common, with Qantas cancelling around one in 12 flights, the most of any Australian airline.

As well as frequent flight delays and cancellations, travellers have come to expect queues, lost bags and long waits to reach help centres on the phone.

Ticket prices have also been surging, with data from travel search engine KAYAK finding the average return economy domestic flight in July was $409. This was a 24 per cent increase from May.

Some routes saw massive jumps from May to July, with flights from the Gold Coast to Melbourne increasing by around 96 per cent.

Australia’s airport chaos is not unique - airlines around the world have been struggling to meet surging demand as travel restrictions have lifted, with staff shortages largely to blame.

London's Heathrow Airport introduced a daily cap on passengers to keep the situation manageable during ongoing staff shortages.

My flight has been cancelled or delayed - can I get my money back?

Choice travel expert Jodi Bird said Australian airline consumers had fewer protections than other countries when it came to flight delays and cancellations.

In Europe, for example, airlines are bound by a regulated compensation scheme.

Under the scheme, once your flight has been delayed for three hours or more, you are entitled to compensation (depending on the situation, this might be meals while you wait, reimbursement or return flights).

But in Australia, travellers are basically subject to the conditions spelled out by each airline in the fine print.

Bird said most Australian airlines didn’t guarantee schedules.

“Basically, if you booked a flight for 11:30am on a Thursday, Qantas and the other airlines are saying we don't guarantee that it's going to leave at 11:30am on a Thursday,” Bird said.

While each airline had different delay and cancellation policies, he said airlines typically treated these cases differently depending on if it was the airline’s fault or the customer’s.

If the cancellation or delay was in the airline’s control, Bird said some airlines would offer a refund or a credit to spend at another time.

If you need to cancel a flight for personal reasons, you are pretty unlikely to get any money back on a standard flight.

This is complicated by third-party booking websites, such as Webjet and Flight Centre. If you book through these services, Bird said you were then essentially dealing with two sets of terms and conditions.

Bird said Australian travellers would benefit from an overarching compensation scheme - as seen in Europe - which would mean Australian travellers wouldn’t have to scour terms and conditions to figure out what they were entitled to.

Travel tips to protect yourself

Bird offered a couple of tips for travellers hoping to protect themselves in the case of cancellations or delays.

Whether travelling domestically or internationally, he said it was best to familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions, known as the “conditions of carriage”.

He recommended searching the documents for “cancellations” or “delays” if you were looking to save time.

If you are armed with this information, you’ll have a better chance of getting what you are entitled to if the situation arises.

“It actually helps if you are able to quote those conditions of carriage when you actually tell the staff,” he said.

Travel insurance is something else to consider.

He said it was usually worth getting travel insurance for international travel but not necessarily for domestic travel, but that depended on how important it was for the travel to run smoothly.

Bird also said travel insurance policies had their fair share of quirks, and recommended reading them carefully to ensure you were covered for cancellations and delays.

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