"AIRLINES in Australia could be forced to pay out thousands of dollars to passengers who are delayed for three hours or more, following a landmark court ruling in Europe.
Compensation lawyers have warned the decision may pave the way for passengers here to claim for disrupted travel plans. The news comes after the European Court of Justice found travellers were entitled to monetary compensation, unless the delay was caused by "extraordinary circumstances".
Senior compensation lawyer Bernard McHardy from Sydney-based legal firm McLaughlin & Riordan said the court ruling may put pressure on travel agents.
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"People are encouraged by their travel agent to get insurance for losses in the event of delays, but the onus may now be turned to the airlines themselves," Mr McHardy said.
"It makes a lot of sense that somebody providing a contractual service owes a duty of care to customers."
Raymond Veldkamp runs a website called Flight Delayed, which helps travellers fight for compensation.
Mr Veldkamp estimated hundreds of thousands of passengers suffer delays of more than three hours when using airports each year.
Surveys found passengers flying on Jetstar over the recent Christmas period were the most likely to be late, while Qantas passengers were most likely to have their planes cancelled.
Just 73 per cent of domestic Jetstar planes left on time in December, compared to 82 per cent of Qantas and Virgin Australia planes and 81 per cent of Tiger Airways flights.
But Qantas also had the most cancellations for the month at 2 per cent, Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics figures showed.
Jetstar spokesman Stephen Moynihan recently said its performance in December was not where the airline or its customers would like to be, but spoke of moves to speed up the check-in process, including mobile check-in at airports, in which flight attendants check passengers in while they are in the queue.
"Being Australia's largest low fares airline does not mean customers should expect low levels of service and reliability," the spokesman said.
Tiger spokeswoman Vanessa Regan said its substantially improved result over the Christmas period was thanks to a concerted effort by the company to focus on better punctuality and customer satisfaction.
Comment is still being sought from Qantas on the matter."