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Passengers need ‘bill of rights’ for air travel, lawyers say

written by Jake Nelson | November 29, 2023

Passengers in the security queue at Sydney’s Terminal 2. (Image: Sydney Airport)

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has called for a “passenger bill of rights” to be included in the upcoming Aviation White Paper.

In its submission following the Green Paper released earlier this year, the ALA makes 14 recommendations including compensation for flight delays and cancellations within the airlines’ control, as well as overhauls to civil liability laws.

Victoria Roy, travel lawyer and spokesperson for the ALA, said current aviation consumer protection mechanisms are “complex and limited”.

“Currently passengers’ rights are found in a complex web of legislation which is hard for consumers to understand. These sources only give passengers limited and vague rights and are difficult and costly for consumers to enforce,” she said.

“A new Australian Passenger Bill of Rights, including a flight delay compensation scheme, should be simple enough for individual consumers to navigate themselves without enlisting the help of a lawyer and include rules around timeframes for airlines to respond to complaints and compensation claims.


“A Bill of Rights would not only provide flight compensation but should also include care standards in the event of airport or tarmac delays, communication requirements plus much more.”

An update of the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959 is also among the recommendations, with Roy saying “several cohorts of air passengers” are left without rights under current laws.

“We are particularly concerned about passengers who have sustained a psychiatric injury maybe due to a near-death experience, or as a victim of sexual assault on a flight or who have had a family member die while on a flight,” she said.

“These are traumatic experiences which may result in ongoing psychological harm, but the law does not recognise compensation for these injuries.

“The Aviation White Paper provides the government with an opportunity to be a proactive supporter of Australians’ mental health and give air passengers who suffer psychiatric injury certainty.”

Liability for operators of private, recreational and business flights also needs re-examining, said Roy.

“The current state of the law means that unlike with commercial flight operations, the rights of passengers on private, recreational or business flights are treated differently across Australia,” she said.

“This leads to injustice if a passenger is injured on a flight in a state whose civil liability laws allow the pilot or other defendant to avoid liability, even if they were negligent and this resulted in serious injury or death.

“Australia is a vast nation and light aircraft travel is the lifeblood of remote and rural communities. People who travel on light aircraft should have the same rights that road travellers take for granted.”

The ALA has previously advocated for a “Canada-style” scheme of compensation for passengers delayed by circumstances within an airline’s control, as well as 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.

The Aviation White Paper, to be released next year, will set the government’s policy direction for the aviation sector to 2050.

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