Call for Passenger Bill of Rights to be included in Aviation White Paper
29th Nov 2023
The Australian Government should create new aviation-specific consumer protection laws in the form of a Passenger Bill of Rights, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance in its submission to the Aviation White Paper which will set the policy direction for the aviation sector out to 2050.
“Existing consumer protection mechanisms for air passengers are complex and limited,” said Ms Victoria Roy, travel lawyer and spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA). “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.
“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.”
The ALA recommends that within the Bill of Rights, a flight compensation scheme would compensate passengers for disruption, inconvenience or loss occasioned by delayed flights, cancelled flights, denied boarding or tarmac delays unless these are caused by circumstances outside the control of the airline.
“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,” said Ms Roy.
The ALA’s submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts includes 14 recommendations. Several of these recommendations relate to revisions required to the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959.
“Various amendments of the Act are required to protect individuals’ rights,” said Ms Roy. “The current state of the law leaves several cohorts of air passengers without rights.
“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. 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.”
The ALA also made recommendations in relation to liability for the operators of private, recreational or business flights.
“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,” said Ms Roy. “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.”
Read the ALA's full submission here.