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Flight cancellations soar: What are your options?


Virgin canned over 14% of its flights last week and Qantas 6%. So what can you do if your flight is cancelled, too?

In between the heavy rains, COVID-19, flu season, staff shortages and school holidays, flight cancellations are on the rise.

Last week, from Monday 4 July to Sunday 10 July, Virgin cancelled 14.7 of its flights while Qantas canned 6.7 of its domestic journeys.

Over the month of May, the cancellation rate for all Aussie airlines (Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Rex, and their regional arms) was 5.6%.

This might not seem much, but the long-term average is just 2%.

"Airports and airlines globally are experiencing huge demand as travellers return to the sky as pandemic restrictions ease," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Finder.

So what happens if my flight gets cancelled?

If an airline cancels your flight you should be notified as soon as possible with alternative arrangements.

If you're not, and your flight is coming up soon, reach out to the airline to discuss your options.

Generally, you'll be given 1 of 2 options:

  • Be bumped onto the next flight
  • Cancel your flight for a refund

More likely than not, the airline will automatically bump you onto the next available flight.

On popular routes this could mean a delay of 1–2 hours.

On less popular routes, it may be a few days later which could be extremely inconvenient and cause you to miss out on a chunk of your holiday.

During times of high disruption, such as now, airlines will try and get you onto the next possible flight. They may even hold seats to prioritise guests who have experienced delays and cancellations.

My new flight is unsuitable. What can I do?

If you are bumped onto a flight that doesn't work for your travel plans, contact the airline to see if they can offer you a better flight time. Or even a different mode of transport.

Virgin Australia, for example, will seek to transfer you onto another airline to the same destination if there is no available Virgin flight for you.

Rex will find alternative transport, such as a bus, or may fly you to another Rex airport where you can continue your journey.

Can I get a refund?

In the end, if none of the airline's options work for you, you can ask for a refund or credit under the Australian Consumer Law.

However, this does mean you'll have to find another flight to hop onto if you still wish to travel.

Where possible, Virgin Australia is proactively communicating with guests who have been impacted by a schedule change. In the event that we are unable to offer a suitable recovery option, a full refund or travel credit is being offered.”

Virgin Australia Group spokesperson

If your airline isn't providing you with a suitable alternative, travel insurance may be able to help in certain circumstances.

For example, if you've paid $2,000 for flights to a special event such as a friend's wedding. The airline cancels your flight but offers an alternative one after the wedding has taken place.

If you're able to find a flight with another airline that gets you there in time, travel insurance can cover you for the costs up to a specified amount.

Will I be compensated if there's a long wait until my next flight?

If your new flight is hours, even days later, the airline should have a compensation policy to make sure you're taken care of until you fly.

This is generally for flights that are delayed for lengthy periods (2+ hours) and that are cancelled on short notice (around 72 hours before departure).

Note that some airlines will only compensate you if the reason for cancellation is inside the airline's control. For example, engineering issues and staff shortages.

Jetstar, for example, won't offer compensation if the delay is outside of its control – say, if the reason is poor weather or air traffic control issues.

Here's what each airline offers as part of its compensation policy:

Short delaysOvernight delays
Virgin Australia
  • Delays of 2+ hours: Meal voucher at 2 hour intervals
  • Accommodation up to $220 per room, per night
  • Cost of airport transfers
  • Meals up to $50 per person, per night (if not your home airport)
  • Costs incurred for reasonable personal items (if not your home airport)
  • Delays of 2+ hours: Meal voucher
  • Accommodation (Qantas organised)
  • Cost of airport transfers
  • Meals up to $50 per person, per night (if not your home airport)
  • Costs incurred for reasonable personal items (if not your home airport)
  • Delays of 3+ hours: Meal voucher
  • Accommodation (arranged by Jetstar)
  • Airport transfer (arranged by Jetstar)
  • Meals (either through the accommodation or reimbursement of your receipts)
  • Delays of 90+ minutes: Meal voucher
  • None

Can insurance help?

Most domestic travel insurance policies will include the option to cover you for flight cancellations and delays. Some credit cards also offer complimentary travel insurance for domestic trips.

With cancellation and delay cover, you can claim a reasonable cost for accommodation, meals and transfers. That is, so long as your airline isn't already compensating you for it.

Cancellation insurance can also cover any non-refundable holiday expenses that you need to cancel such as hotel stays and pre-paid activities.

Tips to make your delay a little more comfortable

  • Lounge passes: Instead of waiting with everyone else, frequent flyer members might like to redeem any lounge passes they have. This will give you a space to rest and can include complimentary meals and showers. If your frequent flyer membership doesn't get you in, you can pay for some lounges or get access with a credit card.
  • Check the status of your flight before you leave for the airport: This can reduce any time at the airport in case your flight is cancelled or delayed.
  • Arrive 2 hours before your scheduled departure: During peak periods, for local flights try to get to the airport 2 hours before your departure time. This ensures you don't get there too early in case there is a delay and can help reduce queues and overcrowding.
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