Greedy Airlines

Reporter: David Richardson

Delayed ... re-scheduled ... cancelled ... all words guaranteed to make airline passengers angry and for some, want revenge.Adam Schwab may appear mild mannered but he's not to be underestimated. A fee fighter, a consumer crusader, call him what you will, he has the airline industry's full attention. "If an airline overbooks a flight or makes an error in flight patterns or plans, they shouldn't be allowed to make a profit from their own stupidity", Adam said.

When Virgin Blue cancelled Adam's flight earlier this year Virgin Blue learnt that the hard way. Despite paying $122 in cash for the ticket, his request for a cash refund was refused because it was not "airline policy".So off to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal he went. The Tribunal found insufficient reason for the cancellation and the offer of airline "credit" unacceptable compensation. "A very senior tribunal member at VCAT has deemed what Virgin did was against contract law and Virgin were required to pay out the cost of an alternative flight", Adam said.

If you check their websites, you'll find most airlines hide behind very broad ranging "terms of carriage". Vague excuses like "operational" issues can throw your travel plans into chaos but this ruling will have the airlines thinking twice. "If a flight is cancelled by the airline, be it Virgin or Jetstar or Tiger or Qantas, there seems to be no reason a customer shouldn't be entitled to a cash refund if they paid cash initially and they weren't at fault", Adam said.

Virgin Blue's, Colin Lippiatt, says a cash refund was always possible, although it would be the very last option and not guaranteed . "We will offer a free future flight or an alternative flight to our guest at times when we cannot provide the scheduled flight. If that is not suitable and a full refund is requested, then that will be given to our guest relations team who will look at the individual circumstances -- if they deem it's appropriate, they will indeed give a full refund", Colin said.

"Virgin simply refused to provide a cash refund, but when the VCAT application was submitted, Virgin immediately offered a cash refund, no questions asked. I chose not to accept that and to prove a point in VCAT so that others can use the finding", Adam said.

When it comes to being hijacked by airline ticketing fine print, spare a thought for 16 year old Letatia Carr and her 8 year old niece Tahlia. Having flown in from Wellington on Air New Zealand the night before, Tiger Airways refused to take the pair on to Adelaide the next day. "They put our bags through and then he asked for our ID and ages. Because I'm under 18, I couldn't take her on the plane, he said I could go but I'd have to leave her here", Letatia said.

Abandoning an 8 year old is ridiculous and dangerous, but at Tiger, it appears, common sense has taken a holiday.

Talia's mother Ariana was forced to drive from Adelaide to Melbourne to pick them up -- an 8 hour trip - while the pair was left to fend for themselves. "They were refused to go on because of Tasha's age, there was nothing mentioned when we purchased the tickets to say that she couldn't fly", Ariana said.

Tiger confirms it is policy not to carry children without adult supervision -- anyone under 18 who attempts to make a booking online, is alerted to that. But in this case the booking was made by Tahlia's mother and she claims there was no warning. "All other airlines you have to be 15 to go on, so I just assumed this would be the same", she said.

Regardless of policy, for an airline that told us it takes the welfare and safety of children very seriously, throwing two of them out onto the street is hardly showing it. And there won't be a refund because the clause is buried within the terms and conditions. The family are just happy to have the girls home safely.

Recently consumer group Choice accused all airlines of gouging on fees. Qantas charge $7.70 a passenger for domestic flights booked with a credit card -- That's more than $30 for a family of four, even though only one transaction is processed.

Nonetheless Qantas claim that it doesn't make money from the fee, claiming its collections are lower than the cost it incurs for excepting credit cards.

Tiger charges a $6 "convenience" fee per passenger per flight; at Virgin it's $3.50 and Jetstar $3.

If you have an issue with an airline, take a leaf out of Adam's book by going to the small claims tribunal in your state -- you too can fight back. "It's not a difficult process, it's not a costly process, and whilst often the sums aren't that large, taking such action, other airlines and companies will simply stop behaving in such a manner and most likely treat customers with far more respect", Adam said.