Some 18 months after the launch of its complane.com.au website, on which Aussie flyers can register their grievances relating to flight delays and cancellations, CHOICE has revealed that Jetstar is by far the most complained about carrier in Australia.
With over 1,100 people sharing their poor flight experiences with the site since its debut in July 2016, Jetstar was the target of 40% of all complaints, followed by parent company Qantas with 26%.
Twenty percent of complaints were aimed at Virgin Australia while Tigerair received a relatively low 14%.
In a statement to the consumer watchdog, Jetstar said it had received more complaints simply because it flew more passengers than main rival Tigerair.
When it comes to the causes of delays and cancellations, the majority (45%) were put down to mechanical failure, while three in ten (30%) people were unsure or not told why their flights were affected. Airlines left a significant percentage (7%) stranded overnight too.
CHOICE media head Tom Godfrey said almost 40% of people wouldn’t register a complaint with their airline because they deemed it futile, describing an imbalance between travellers rights and airline behaviour, where passengers were disadvantaged.
With this in mind, and following a report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that questioned airline compensation programs, CHOICE has called on the government to set up an industry ombudsman to help consumers.
CHOICE says that the Airline Consumer Advocate (ACA), which stands as an intermediary between flyers and airlines in disputes, has no power and is unable to force carriers to compensate customers if they decide airlines decide against it.
According to the most recent annual data, nearly half (45%) of complaints brought to the ACA against airlines go unresolved.
"What we need is an ombudsman with teeth who can actually call these airlines to account," Mr Godfrey said.
"The industry should provide fixed financial compensation to travellers who have flights cancelled for reasons within the airline's control.”
And CHOICE seems to have the ACCC’s backing, with its chairman Rod Sims lamenting airline policies that “appear inconsistent with consumers' rights under the law”.
"Some very consistent themes and bugbears for airline passengers emerged, including no refund statements, excessive fees for cancelling or changing flights, and issues relating to consumer guarantees," Mr Sims said.
"Some contracts entitle airlines to make unlimited changes without consequence, but customers are penalised for even minor adjustments.”