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Delays, baggage theft and being bumped off a flight are all common consumer gripes when looking at the airline industry.

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler says not many passengers know what their consumer rights are when it comes to air travel.


Overbooking is an international practice, says Knowler. But what does the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) say?

Read: Consumer Protection Act protects consumers for flights and hotel overbooking

The CPA’s section 47 says if a company can’t deliver on a prepaid service at the agreed time, the supplier must
refund the amount paid, with interest, and “in addition compensate the consumer for costs directly incidental to the supplier’s breach of the contract”.

Airlines worldwide deliberately overbook their flights to compensate for the inevitable “no-shows”, in the hope that the “extras” will all find seats, the plane will take off as full as possible and everyone will be happy.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

The airlines often get their sums wrong from, and that’s when people who’ve pre-booked and prepaid for a seat on a particular flight get bumped off.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist


Knowler says passengers who are “bumped out of” a more expensive class because of overbooking should be reimbursed with fare price difference, but this isn't always the case.

Last month Peter Berg-Munch flew on Ethiopian Airlines. He’d booked business class return tickets from Joburg to Copenhagen via Addis Ababa.

But on the leg home - Addis to Jhb - he was unceremoniously downgraded to economy class - a fare difference of some R13 000.

When he arrived at the front of a long queue hew was told that his flight was overbooked and there were no more Business Class seats left.

His wife, travel writer Caroline Hurry, tweeted a photo of the awful-looking polony roll which he was served in economy class and shared how the airline failed to respond.

When Knowler reached out to the airline, a refund was hastily done for only R4650. Management said it was the only amount Berg-Munch was entitled to.


Many airlines say it’s global practice in the aviation business model to cancel the return flights of passengers who had not checked in for their first leg of travel.

Also read: Consumer Commission to probe cancellation policy at Mango Airlines

Knowler says if consumers miss a flight, and have a return one booked with the same airline, they must call the airline and confirm that return flight.

Listen to the ConsumerTalk feature for the full discussion on airline woes:

Every Wednesday, on The Pippa Hudson Show, Wendy Knowler provides useful insights and tips on how to make the most of your buying power.

For more stories visit the ConsumerTalk feature page.

Got a consumer case you need help resolving?

Email: consumer@knowler.co.za, put Cape Talk in the subject line, followed by the issue e.g. cellphone contract dispute.

This article first appeared on CapeTalk : 3 things about airline industry practice every flyer should know

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