Apr 22, 2012

A National Airline Customer Advocate

From July this year, Australia will have a new, independent National Airline Customer Advocate to give passengers the extra help and protection they need in getting their complaints resolved.

Applications for this role will open this week, with major newspapers carrying advertisements seeking high quality candidates.

The National Airline Customer Advocate scheme implements an important reform of the Federal Labor Government’s National Aviation White Paper.

Flying is today five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago, thanks to greater competition, the rise of low-cost airlines and the availability of different types of fares, classes and service levels.

But cheap fares shouldn’t mean cheap treatment.

Passengers are entitled to be treated fairly and decently by airlines.  And part of that service means having their complaints dealt with properly and on time.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar Airways, Regional Express and Tiger Airways will participate in and jointly fund the position in response to the Government’s call in the National Aviation White Paper.

The advocate’s main role will be to act as a facilitator and work with the major airlines to address the complaints of any customer who has been unable to resolve them directly.

The office of the National Airline Customer Advocate will be based in a major city at a location unconnected with the offices of the participating airlines.

The advocate will work with a committee comprising a representative from each of the founding airlines to get complaints resolved within 20 working days.

Airline customers already have a range of rights under Australian Consumer Law. The National Airline Customer Advocate will complement existing laws and act as a link between passengers and airlines to get complaints resolved.

The advocate will also monitor and report on the major areas where airlines may be letting their customers down, including the number of complaints received and the major reasons for complaints to each participating airline.

As this is an Australian-first, we recognise that it will need ongoing review and fine-tuning by airlines, consumer groups and the Government.

I am pleased to see Australia’s major airlines responding to the Government’s request for greater accountability for their customers and I commend them for working together to establish the National Airline Customer Advocate Scheme.

In 2011 over 15 million international flights were made by Australians and over 54 million people boarded domestic passenger flights.

Low cost carriers now account for more than 18 per cent of the international flights and 23 per cent of domestic traffic.

The National Airline Customer Advocate builds on the Government’s other initiatives to assist passengers and members of the public affected by aviation.  They include:

  • Customer Charters that set out minimum standards for handling complaints and outline clear commitments to offer full refunds to passengers in specified circumstances; and
  • Community Aviation Consultation Groups to make sure airports engage with the broader community on issues including noise, disability access, and airport developments.