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Thursday 4 November 2021

Airline Customer Advocate slammed as "a waste of time"

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has awarded the industry-funded Airline Customer Advocate a "Shonky" Award for failing to do its job and leaving Australians stranded during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Airline Customer Advocate says it is a free service to facilitate “the resolution of current unresolved complaints about airline services”.

But CHOICE says complainants might as well deposit their submission in a paper shredder.

“It’s an airline-industry funded scheme that’s meant to solve your problems, but really it’s a forwarding service," says CHOICE consumer rights expert Alison Elliott

"The Advocate can’t look at your problem and make an independent decision. Instead, it will forward your complaint back to the airline, asking nicely for the airline to respond to you in 20 days. And that’s about it.

“You might as well put your complaint in a shredder than waste your time with the Airline Customer Advocate.

“This is an advocate that doesn’t advocate. It's window dressing to help the airline industry pretend it cares about managing complaints. In reality, it can’t investigate your complaint, it can’t make an independent decision and it has no power to make airlines do anything.”

In a recent nationally representative survey, only 32% of Australians said they were aware of the service, and only 15% had used it.

And even worse, during the Covid-19 crisis, the Airline Customer Advocate didn’t accept complaints about the major issues of the day, including:

# \Travellers being offered a credit instead of a refund, a common problem for pandemic-affected travel.

# Poor customer service and delays in getting a response from airlines.

# Delays in receiving refunds.

CHOICE asked the Airline Customer Advocate how many travellers they helped in 2020 and 2021. It did not receive a response.

“We’re not sure what the Airline Customer Advocate actually did or achieved over the Covid-19 crisis,” says Elliott.

“From CHOICE’s extensive travel survey this year, we heard from thousands of Australians who struggled to get their money back and received poor customer service from the airlines. The height of the Covid-19 crisis was the time we most needed an independent advocate to help us navigate these tough times. Instead, the Airline Customer Advocate left Australians stranded.”

The Airline Customer Advocate (ACA) says it provides a "free and independent service" to customers of major Australian airlines by facilitating the resolution of current unresolved complaints about airline services.

It says it will forward complaint to the right person within the relevant airline and ensure you receive a response within a reasonable time (usually within 20 working days).

The bub is that the ACA is actually funded by the participating airlines and has no independent powers at all.

CHOICE says the airline industry needs dispute resolution with teeth.

“Australians need an independent airline ombudsman," says Elliott. "One that has the resources to investigate complaints, the power to make binding decisions and independence to keep the industry in-check. Until then, the Airline Customer Advocate is merely a fake advocate designed to help the airlines avoid accountability.”


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