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Tara Moss among the airline customers ‘held hostage’ by repeated cancellations

"The whole system is deeply flawed for consumers": Tara Moss and her daughter Sapphira, 9.

“The whole system is deeply flawed for consumers”: Tara Moss and her daughter Sapphira, 9.Credit:Berndt Sellheim

“We had to make some hard decisions fast,” she said. “No one quite knew what was happening, or how things would be impacted, or for how long.”

At first, Moss and her family thought they would return home in May but the flight was cancelled. The same thing happened in June, then July. Now her September and October flights have been cancelled too.

The family is allowed to fly and keen to spend time with Moss’ Canadian family for personal reasons. Yet despite throwing many thousands of dollars at the problem, they have not managed to get on one of the few flights departing Sydney each day.

“If you are trying to get somewhere, you can find thousands or tens of thousands of your dollars sucked up by airlines who won’t refund or won’t even give you access to credits so you can book,” Moss said. “The whole system is deeply flawed for consumers.”

Moss has booked three itineraries with two separate airlines, twice direct and once through a travel agency. Air Canada will only give credit for the return leg of her original ticket not a refund, even though the airline cancelled it not her.

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With a Japanese airline last week, Moss saw evidence of flights and arrivals, spent nearly $10,000 for one-way fares for the family, and four days later the airline cancelled. At first the airline advised it would take two months to get a refund, then promised it within a week.

A client who booked a flight for Moss was told they would be charged an actual refund fee, even though it was the airline that cancelled and no part of the ticket was used.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of Australians in London trying to get flights home and sharing war stories in the “Aussies in London” Facebook group.

The Guardian reported on Friday that Australians had been told their flights were cancelled and it later turned out the flights were still operating but the airline wanted to sell more first-class tickets at up to $27,000 each.

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Sydneysider Randa Abdel-Fattah said on Twitter her 93-year-old grandmother was stranded in Egypt, having been bumped from her Etihad flight five times, most recently on Friday. Ms Abdel-Fattah said her grandmother, an Australian citizen for 47 years, was “alone and depressed” and running out of money and her medicine.

Many other people do not need to travel but are waiting months for refunds.

Sydneysider Brett Flower said on Twitter he cancelled his flights with Thai Airways in March and was told it would take six months to process a refund. Instead in June he received a letter saying the airline had gone into bankruptcy protection.

In Canada, consumers have joined a class action in the Canadian Federal Court trying to force airlines to provide cash refunds for flights cancelled because of COVID-19, rather than issuing a future credit.

Erin Turner, director of campaigns & communications at Choice, said consumers were “being held hostage” by airlines’ conditions of carriage.

“People shouldn’t need to rely on hope to get back to their home or families,” Ms Turner said. “If someone has a flight cancelled, airlines should be giving refunds rather than credits to allow someone to find alternatives on other airlines.”

A spokesman for the International Air Transport Association said this was a commercial decision by individual airlines and he could not comment further.

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