Coalition pushes bill that could make airlines pay for delays

The Coalition is attempting to push new legislation through the Senate to bind airlines to set out clearer obligations to customers, and may even require them to compensate passengers in the event of a delay.

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie and Liberal senator Dean Smith tabled the Airline Passenger Protections (Pay on Delay) Bill on Friday. According to a Senate notice issued on Thursday, the bill i for “an Act to require the transport minister to make rules prescribing carriers’ obligations, and for related purposes.”

The Coalition has tabled a bill aimed at tightening airline consumer protections.
The Coalition has tabled a bill aimed at tightening airline consumer protections. Credit: Brendon Thorne

“The bill will clarify a passenger’s ticket is on a particular flight, to a particular destination, at a particular time,” Senator McKenzie and Senator Smith said in a statement.

“Australians travelling to see friends and family or for work are consistently let down by cancelled and delayed flights. In November alone, 45.3 per cent of flights were cancelled or delayed across Australia’s busiest routes, the ‘Golden Triangle’, of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, leading to widespread disruption and customer dissatisfaction.”

Qantas and Virgin Australia fly all but 5 per cent of the Australian domestic market and have been under increased pressure since flying resumed after COVID-19 to improve their approach to customer service.

The government has also faced significant pressure from politicians, airline customers and competition experts to beef up airline customer protections, with many pointing to an EU-style compensation scheme as a possible solution.

The head of the International Air Transport Association Willie Walsh, and many of its airline members, are against this kind of policy. They argue travellers in the EU have paid more in airfares since the scheme was introduced, and it has not lowered the rates of cancellations or delays.

The senators said the bill would be introduced on February 26.

To become law, the bill would need support from cross-bench senators, and it would need to pass through the House of Representatives, which would require bipartisan support.

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The government is considering stronger consumer protections, improvements to complaint-handling processes and accessibility as part of the aviation white paper which is due to be released this year.

Transport Minister Catherine King said in September it would consider measures in place overseas as part of this process and accused Australia’s local airlines for failing consumers.

“I do say really clearly: airlines need to do better when it comes to Australian consumers. I have been highly critical of Qantas for some time in relation to a range of issues. They need to do better,” she said in September.

Most flight cancellations have a simple cause: weather. But there are also times when airlines, airports and Airservices Australia – the government body responsible for air navigation safety – are at fault. Since COVID-19, passengers have experienced longer waits to be rebooked on a replacement flight because there are fewer services operating than before the pandemic.

The bill follows a report by former competition watchdog chair Allan Fels on Thursday that found Qantas had taken advantage of its 60 per cent market share and was “price gouging”, which could have affected the wider economy.

“Qantas’ ability to reduce supply while increasing prices and suffering no material loss of market share may have affected CPI in December 2022, and therefore may have impacted the Reserve Bank’s inflation expectations and rate increases,” wrote Professor Fels.

“A quarter of the inflation that month was mainly due to Qantas aggressively raising airfares, although Virgin may have also contributed.”

Qantas rejected the allegations on Thursday and said airfares have dropped significantly over the past two years.

Fels called for a separate review and removal of anticompetitive restrictions on slots at airports, and also hit out at airline loyalty schemes as not transparent enough.

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Source: Thanks smh.com