From the managing editor
You have to admire consumer group CHOICE for their creativity, with the launch last month of the airline complaints campaign which includes the cleverly named www.complane.com.au website. The populist initiative is sure to garner support from disgruntled travellers, who in this connected world take no time at all to vent their online spleen at any sort of delay. We are an impatient lot, and CHOICE is capitalising on this very human tendency by making it easier than ever before to lodge a complaint with the airlines. The end game for the consumer group is to have new laws introduced which would guarantee monetary compensation for disrupted travellers – similar to the arrangements in Europe, the UK & NZ. It sounds like a good idea – however on closer examination I believe the campaign is somewhat misguided, and erroneously paints the airlines as bad guys who do their best to make the life of travellers miserable. CHOICE has pitched it as a way of making the airlines financially accountable for delays which are in their control, giving them a monetary incentive to do better. But as most people in the travel industry know, the last thing the airlines want is a delay. As well as meaning they are inundated with complaints, the knock-on effect of a late departure can affect the entire network – with the ensuing chaos costing a fortune. Unlike the situation in Europe, which is frankly punitive because it penalises airlines no matter what the reason for the delay, the CHOICE proposal would only require compensation in the event the problem is due to something within the carriers’ control. Although disruptions are common, they are usually due to weather conditions or air traffic control, so the proposed legislation would not apply. Moreover the airlines also now generally offer a travel insurance option during the purchase process, and at least some of the policies include compensation if a delay means the traveller misses an important event such as a wedding or conference. I suspect a better solution would be a ‘user-pays’ system where the airlines offer an additional insurance option providing for compensation in the event of any delay. Travellers could select this at their discretion, giving them assurance they are protected, while those who choose not to take up the option also know what they’re in for if things go wrong. If the proposed laws cost airlines more, that inevitably will flow through to higher fares, so the net benefit to consumers overall will be zero. In the end, travel is an adventure and sometimes that adventure includes disruption. If you don’t want to be inconvenienced, stay at home!