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Australia should follow USA with new passenger protections, says Choice

written by Jake Nelson | May 10, 2023

US President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announce new compensation rules for airlines. (Image: White House/Facebook)

Consumer advocates say Australia should follow the Biden administration in strengthening consumer protections for airline passengers.

US President Joe Biden and Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg have announced new rules mandating compensation and coverage of expenses for passengers affected by “controllable” airline delays and cancellations, including accommodation, meals, and rebookings.

According to the US Department of Transportation, the rules will cover:

  • Compensation for passengers when there is a controllable airline cancellation or significant delay;
  • A meal or meal voucher, overnight accommodations, ground transportation to and from the hotel, and rebooking for controllable delays or cancellations;
  • Timely customer service during and after periods of widespread flight irregularities; and
  • Definition of a controllable cancellation or delay.

“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill. This rule would, for the first time in U.S. history, propose to require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses such as meals, hotels, and rebooking in cases where the airline has caused a cancellation or significant delay,” said Buttigieg.

Jodi Bird, transport expert at consumer advocacy organisation Choice, told Australian Aviation that rules such as these should be implemented in Australia, where currently compensation in the event of a flight delay or cancellation is left up to the individual airlines.


“It just makes it standardised. For all airlines, that gives them an additional incentive to actually adhere to timetables and where they’re actually flying to and from, and makes it easier for people to understand across the board, what they can get from their airline if things go wrong,” he said.

Bird points to the European Union’s rules as the standard that Australia should be aiming towards, but says that these new US measures are setting a strong example.

“In the European Union… there is a set amount depending on the length of the flight, and the circumstances under which the flight was cancelled or delayed, rather than having it set at the discretion of the airlines,” he said.

“At the moment in Australia, we have probably some of the weakest regulatory standards for compensation. There are some existing compensation levels in the US already. There are obviously those in the EU. There’s even some in New Zealand and Indonesia, whereas Australia doesn’t have any regulatory standards for compensation.

“So when you’ve got a big market like the US leading the way with something like this, it’s definitely something for Australians to think about.”

In a March submission to the Government’s Aviation White Paper, which will set the long-term direction for the sector, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) also argued for monetary compensation for passengers delayed by circumstances within an airline’s control.

The ALA called for standards for informing passengers of delays in a timely manner, and a legal requirement that airlines provide “appropriate accommodation” to passengers who are significantly delayed, or are moderately delayed in the case of certain passenger groups such as pregnant or breastfeeding women and people with disabilities.

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Comment (1)

  • Great idea. Maybe just aim to follow the US regulations initially, as the EU regulations have gone too far in my opinion. In some cases you have the right to a higher refund/compensation than you actually paid for the ticket, which isn’t right.
    But for sure, Australia does need better customer rights and compensation.

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