Today’s bad press on Tiger raises the question, why shouldn’t consumer protection laws force all airlines to promptly refund fares and pay compensation when they strand passengers and force them to pick up the tab for hotel rooms, meals and other incidentals?

There is no justification for Tiger taking up to two months to compensate hundreds of passengers for the expenses they had to meet in Hobart last Friday when it pulled their flight.

If Tiger can operate an airline it can’t seriously claim to be challenged by the simple task of providing compensation on the spot. It has passenger credit or debit cards on record from the fare purchase. It can reverse the transactions instantly. Holding on to the money for months is grubby.

If Tiger can’t understand this, and fix it, there is a clear case for consumer law to be applied to them, whether through existing laws or airline specific amendments. For the carrier to call the police to assist them in ripping off their customers is obnoxious.

Early last month Crikey contributor Adam Schwab took Virgin Blue to the Small Claims division of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal over its refusal to offer cash rather than a voucher for a future flight when it cancelled his flight, and won.

Consumer activism against the airlines has become a huge issue in the US, the UK and Europe. If the Australian carriers can’t respect the basic rule that it is the customer’s money until the goods or services are given or performed what option is there but to compel them to change their ways.

Update: Tiger statement on Friday’ Hobart flight cancellation

Tiger Airways was forced to cancel a Hobart – Melbourne flight on Friday evening when a cabin crew member fell suddenly ill and required emergency medical attention.

Unfortunately we do not have a crew base in Hobart and so no replacement was available – we need a certain amount of cabin crew to fly each flight by law.

Tiger Airways apologises to affected passengers but this situation was outside our control.

140 passengers were booked on the flight and were offered a range of options (over and above the terms and conditions that passengers agree to at time of booking) to minimize the inconvenience and move them to their destination as soon as possible. All available seats on Saturday and Sunday (Hobart – Melbourne ) were given to re-accommodate affected passengers onto those flights and there are seats available on today’s flight which departs Hobart at 9:15pm tonight.

Options provided to passengers are outlined below:
Full refund
Credit to fly at another time
Compensation for accommodation in Hobart if they are non-residents
And free of charge transfer to another flight

Some passengers opted to fly on Saturday, some on Sunday and there is a flight tonight at 9:15pm departing Hobart with spare seats.

Tiger Airways apologises about this situation, but it was out of our control.
Cancellations and delays occur with all airlines. TA works hard to keep them to a minimum and actually has the lowest cancellation rate of all major domestic airlines since we started operations in November 2007 (by percentage of flights).

Tiger Airways apologises to any inconvenienced passengers and remains focused on minimising the disruption and will progress affected passengers’ alternate travel arrangements as soon as possible.

(There is Police presence at Hobart airport at all times and it is common occurrence for their attendance given the sensitive environment. Safety of staff and passengers underpins Tiger’s operation at all times)

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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