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What is the Airline Customer Advocate?

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One of the least known “Ombudsmen” services, even on AFF, is the Sydney based Airline Consumer Advocate (ACA).

Like the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) the organisation is not a government body: instead it is an industry funded complaints bureau with its own set of rules and guidelines. Which begs the question: why would Industry set up its own policeman, and if they did, why would they listen?

Basically the ACA an example of self-regulation. From what I read, the 2009 Government’s “National Aviation Policy – White Paper” made it very clear that the rising rate of airline complaints mean that the Airlines had to set up their own “complaints bureau” or the Government would.

No, government doesn’t want to do this: it costs too much. And Industry much prefers to set up their own “headmaster” – it’s always cheaper and less painful, especially when you set up the rules yourself.

So at a time when the airlines are struggling, let’s be kind when you complain and give the ACA a go before you take it to Court or take your business away.

  • Like any complaint start to keep a diary: She said, on this date, at this time.
  • Gather evidence: learn how to capture a screen shot (PrtScn on my keyboard) or print out the screen to a PDF
  • Be prepared to lay it all out in writing:
  • What the issue is about in one or two sentences
  • What you want fixed of as compensation: make it clear and reasonable
  • What happened, step by step in chronological order (this is where the diary comes in handy)
  • Your argument - why you believe you need compensation
  • Evidence: screen shots, receipts etc.


  1. Your complaint needs to be about an Australian Airline: Jetstar, Qantas, Virgin, REX and Tigerair. You don’t need to be based in AU, but the airline does.
  2. You need to have first tried and failed to get a resolution directly with the airline.
  3. You must not have taken the complaint elsewhere – like the ACCC or Consumer Affairs in your State or Small Claims Court. And if you do – the ACA process stops.
  4. The ACA can then accept your complaint: but only in writing. You can send in your complaint via the web site, including attachments. You can even come back and add more information later (link to the Airline Customer Advocate).
  5. Once you have lodged your complaint the whole process seems automated. You will receive an email with your complaint file number and can view progress on their website as described in the email. But don’t expect to see much, if anything there. Mine was just “in progress” and “due date”
  6. The complaint is probably read briefly and passed on directly to a contact person within the airline, and the clock starts ticking: they have 20 working days to finalise the process. That may include asking more questions, and the Advocate will review the decision before sending it to the complainant or sending it back to the airline for them to have another think about it.
  7. The end resolution isn’t binding. You still have other options like Small Claims Court and the ACA takes the responsible approach and advises you of these in the end.

From the outside it may look like the ACA is just a clearing house. Just passing on your complaint to an airline employee with some punch. The Advocate herself, Julia Lines, seems to be very hands on. In fact she phoned me to help finalize my matter. At times it seemed that she may even be a one woman band, with perhaps only one person to mend the web site and make the calming herb tea? (There is no way I could do her job and stay as relaxed as she sounded calm!)

Ms Lines is the former complaints assessments manager at the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission. So it’s no wonder as Advocate she can handle 933 complaints a year, within an average of 14.9 days with 70% of complaints resolved to the passenger’s satisfaction. (2013 Annual report)

Bottom Line: It’s worth a shot. And you may well fix the system for fellow travellers.

** This info was kindly provided by @GaryBne. See his suggestion to include a discussion on ACA HERE.
 

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