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Know your rights with flight cancellations and delays

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. And while travel may open up again soon, or some people may be trying to come home, things won't always go to plan.

Domestic travel is ramping up in Australia and there high hopes that international flights will start again as soon as it is safe to do so. For many, the idea of travelling again is exciting, but there’s still a big worry about flight cancellations and delays. In this guide, find out the answers to some of the most common questions travellers have about what to do if a flight is cancelled or delayed.

Please check official airline websites or online travel agencies (OTAs) for policies and details.

What happens if my flight is delayed or cancelled in Australia?

You arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Then you see the departure board and check your flight status. You notice some flight delays and even some flight cancellations. And then you find that your flight has been delayed by two hours. Or, worse, it’s been cancelled entirely. Not only does this mean you’ll probably miss your connecting flight, but you also might not even know how you’ll get to your destination.

Some airlines or online travel agencies contact their customers via text or email in advance, notifying travellers that their flight has been cancelled or delayed. This often saves a trip to the airport, and can aid in sorting out alternatives right away. However, this is typically on a case-by-case basis.

So, what are your rights when it comes to flight cancellations and delays? In Australia, the Australian Consumer Law means that typical consumer rights apply to flights departing from Australia or from international flights to Australia if the flight was booked through the Australian website of the airline.

Airlines do not have to guarantee their timetable. Your flight ticket covers passengers for getting from one point to the next, and must do so in a ‘reasonable’ time frame. What exactly this time frame is depends on the circumstances at hand—and COVID outbreaks follow no schedule.

Of course, it’s good business practice to keep customers happy, even for passengers purchasing cheap flights. Airlines often attempt to come to a resolution in order to keep you flying with them in the future.

Luckily, you can reach airlines like Jetstar, Qantas, Tigerair and Virgin Australia through the Airline Customer Advocate, a service that aids in resolving complaints between passengers and the listed airlines. You can find your consumer rights via the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Flight cantellations: contacts and policies

What happens if my flight is delayed or cancelled in the USA or Europe?

What about flights to and from the United States? Well, in the USA, the situation is very similar to Australia when it comes to delays and flight cancellations.

From flights to and from Europe, rights are different and can be checked on the official Europa.eu website. You’ll find that, according to EU guidelines, passengers are entitled to compensation if your flight arrives at your destination more than three hours late, and the flight:

  • Was within the European Union (EU) and operated by either an EU or a non-EU airline.
  • Arrives in the EU from outside the EU and is operated by an EU airline.
  • Departs from the EU to a non-EU country and is operated by an EU or non-EU airline.
  • If you have not already received benefits for flight-related issues under the law of a non-EU country.

This also applies when it comes to planes flying in from the United Kingdom, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland as well as other destinations like Reunion Island, the Canary Islands and Madeira.

For European flights, you’re also entitled to meals and accommodation (depending on the flight delay or cancellation).

However, none of this applies if the cancellation or delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances, like a volcanic ash cloud, pandemics or severe weather. As for the amount of compensation you can get, this depends on the flight distance, and whether or not the airline offers you another transport option.

How do I get a refund for a delayed or cancelled flight?

You will need to contact the company that took your payment to request a refund for a flight that has been cancelled or compensation for a flight delay. If your booking was with an online travel agent, they will be the first point of contact. If your booking was with the airline directly, you should request your refund with the airline itself.

If you aren’t sure where to start, Skyscanner’s help page may be able to point you in the right direction. You can find out the name of the online travel agent or airline as it will be listed at the top of your booking confirmation. You can also find out who to contact by looking at your banking statement.

Consult the official airline websites to find information on how to receive a refund:

You can search for contact details on the Skyscanner Help Site if the airline or online travel agent is not listed above.

Getting refunds after flights cancellations

What if I get to the airport too late and miss my flight?

You wouldn’t be the first traveller to turn up late to an airport. Whether you’ve turned up at the wrong time (or the wrong day) or you’ve just been held up by traffic, it can be an expensive mistake to make. You may find that an airline might show pity, especially if there are seats available on a later flight, but they don’t have to.

Sometimes, an airline might just point out that your ticket was only for the flight that you missed, rather then the full journey. Oftentimes, if you miss the first leg of your trip, the remainder of your ticket will be cancelled. For example, if you are taking a flight from Sydney to Singapore and then from Singapore to Berlin, your Singapore to Berlin connection may not be valid if you miss the Sydney to Singapore flight.

Some travel insurance companies allow for reimbursement for missed flights, so it’s worth reading the fine print of your policy before considering the amount of money spent on a missed flight.

What if my airline goes bankrupt?

If an online travel agency goes bankrupt, consult the advice offered by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), who have an industry notice page detailing the next steps to take. But if the airline has gone bankrupt, there are a few ways to move forward.

  • If you have paid by credit or debit card, contact your bank and request a charge-back to your account.
  • Contact your travel insurance provider to see if your policy covers refunds in the event of airline or online travel agent bankruptcy.
  • If you are overseas, you will likely need to book an alternative flight home via another airline. If there are no flight options available, contact the nearest embassy for their advice on repatriation.

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