Flight delays and cancellations can happen on all airlines for many different reasons. But the way airlines handle lengthy delays can vary drastically. Some airlines will provide meal vouchers and compensation for delays. Accommodation may also be offered in the event of an overnight flight delay.
But in Australia, there are no minimum standards or requirements. The only real protections available to Australians are set out in Australian Consumer Law. Ultimately this means airlines are free to set their own policies.
All airlines will offer you an alternative flight or a refund if your service is cancelled. But airlines are not required to provide any compensation for out-of-pocket expenses that may result. This can be a problem if you’re delayed overnight and need to pay for a hotel room. It’s also problematic if the alternative flight you’re offered is unsuitable and you’re forced to pay for a last-minute ticket on another airline. You may receive a refund for the cancelled flight, but that’s unlikely to cover the cost of the new last-minute booking.
Many airlines do still provide some compensation or accommodation in the case of overnight flight delays. This is set out in each airline’s Conditions of Carriage, which passengers must agree to before buying a ticket. But most Australian airlines distinguish between delays within and beyond their control. Generally, compensation is only offered for delays deemed within the airline’s control. But policies vary between airlines.
Delays beyond the airline’s control
Airlines are generally less willing to help if a flight is delayed or cancelled for a reason outside of their control. This includes things like:
- Poor weather
- Air Traffic Control (ATC) issues
- Third-party industrial action
- Security issues
Most Australian airlines will not cover any additional costs or expenses that you incur due to a delay or cancellation beyond the airline’s control. However, Qantas’ Customer Charter does state that Qantas will provide accommodation for overnight delays outside the airline’s control if you’re away from your home port.
Occasionally other airlines may offer meal vouchers or overnight accommodation in the event of lengthy delays beyond their control. But they are not legally or contractually obliged to do so.
Delays within the airline’s control
Most airlines are a little more generous if the delay or cancellation is their fault. Events considered within the airline’s control include:
- Maintenance or engineering issues
- Airline IT outages (unless it’s the result of a malicious attack)
- Late cleaning or catering of aircraft
- Crew staffing issues
- Overbooked flights and/or if you are denied boarding for a reason other than your conduct
Here’s each Australian airline’s policy for delays within their control:
- Qantas will provide accommodation (or reimburse your accommodation costs) for overnight delays. Meal vouchers are also provided for significant delays or cancellations if you choose to wait for a later flight on the same day.
- Virgin Australia will provide accommodation (or reimburse your hotel expenses up to $220 per night) for overnight delays if you are away from your home port. Virgin also reimburses airport transportation costs and up to $50/night in meals if you're away from your home port. Additionally, meal vouchers are provided every 2 hours for same-day delays.
- Jetstar will not cover any costs you incur for delays or cancellations within the airline's control. But they will provide accommodation (or reimburse your hotel expenses up to $150 per night) for overnight delays if you are away from your home port.
- Tigerair will provide accommodation (or reimburse your hotel expenses up to $120 per night) for overnight delays if you are away from your home port.
- Regional Express (Rex) has a a particularly customer-unfriendly policy. To quote the Rex Conditions of Carriage: "The Company shall not under any circumstances be under any liability to the Passenger for failure to carry him/her at the booked or scheduled time, or at all."
The problem with Australia's current system
The problem with Australia's current system is that there are no minimum standards and airlines are free to pick and choose their own rules. This leaves many airline passengers out of pocket in the event of delays. It's especially poor that Rex won't even provide compensation for events within the airline's control.
Airlines also sometimes try to obfuscate their responsibilities by lying about the real reason for a delay or cancellation. Airline staff can say that a delay is weather-related even when it's not.
Australian airline passengers would benefit greatly from a government-mandated compensation scheme similar to the European Union. Under the EU261 regulations, airlines are required to pay compensation for delays of more than 2 hours or when bumping passengers from overbooked flights.
In the meantime, the only way to guarantee you'll be protected in the case of delays or cancellations is to take out travel insurance.
Passengers report mixed experiences
Some AFF members have received accommodation from Qantas for overnight delays due to weather. But, despite the guarantees in the Qantas Customer Charter and Conditions of Carriage, this seems to be at the discretion of staff. In one example, QantasLink airport staff refused to provide any assistance but the call centre staff were much more helpful.
I had one incident a few years ago where I was stuck in HVB and the QantasLink staff outright refused to arrange any accommodation for us and simply said come back tomorrow. I called the Premium desk, had accommodation organised for myself, and then asked the agent "what about the rest of the passengers?".
I was placed on hold, the agent at HVB received a phone call telling him unequivocally that they *will* be arranging accommodation and transport, and to get a move on before it's too late.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Accommodation for Cancelled Qantas Link Flights due to Weather