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Tourism Australia It's Our Best Shot Campaign

"Ugly Refund Dispute" A Current Affair (ACA) Kicks The Boot Into Agents Again

It's becoming as frequent as Channel Nine's 'A Current Affair' itself: Cue sad, incidental music and another pitiful story about travel industry woes. In a segment aired on ACA last night titled 'Ugly Refund Dispute', the show again weighed in on Flight Centre (FC) for not refunding some customers trips.

It’s becoming as frequent as Channel Nine’s ‘A Current Affair’ itself: Cue sad, incidental music and another pitiful story about travel industry woes. In a segment aired on ACA last night titled ‘Ugly Refund Dispute’, the show again weighed in on Flight Centre (FC) for not refunding some customers trips.

The 76-year old customer featured in this segment had reportedly paid Flight Centre “more than $10,000” for a Princess cruise for herself and her daughter but was apparently “locked into a lower-grade package that was worth much less,” and naturally didn’t want to lose her money.

No details were given around what being “locked into a lower-grade package that was worth much less.” actually means in this instance or what her complaint was outside of the terms and conditions which only added to the confusion for viewers.

Nevertheless, the customer had cancelled the trip on the 19th of February, presumably because of this “lower-grade package,” and claims she was offered a full refund by FC that would be paid within a week.

A week later, on the 26th of February, the customer had gone back to the store to find that FC hadn’t done the necessary ‘paperwork’ nor given her a refund.

This was then reportedly stretched to four-to-six weeks before the customer was supposedly told her refund could now “be three months away,” in light of the COVID-19 current situation.

“It’d take me five years to save this money again,” Says the lady.

Clearly staged footage then showed the lady walking outside the Flight Centre store in regional Victoria (now closed due to state lockdown laws with a note saying as much) before rattling the closed store door.

“They’ve been out of business for the last two weeks so there’s no other avenue I could go to get the money back,” she said.

No, they’ve been forced to close until further notice because of coronavirus and social distancing laws put in place by Federal and State Government.

Thankfully for the elderly customer, the ACA heroes said at the end of the segment that they had reached out to Flight Centre and she would now receive her refund by the end of the week.

It’s important to note that no reply nor comment from FC about the customer’s case was detailed here by ACA, nor that they had even asked FC or Princess Cruises for comment.

Perhaps the customer was about to get her money back anyway? Or maybe she’d breached the T+C’s? What was this story actually about then? There were so many questions unanswered.

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We then hear from a Melbournian gentleman who after not getting his $600 deposit back yet since booking a trip with Flight Centre has started a closed Facebook group called ‘Flight Centre Class Action’.

With 4,000 members and growing (there were no details of their complaints shared), he’s hoping to go legal and start a class action to ensure the members in his group can be refunded.

Again, no background was given nor reply detailed as being requested from Flight Centre nor AFTA so you can only assume ACA didn’t ask them for more information.

This is, of course, a hideous time and new territory for everyone with no question that the inner workings and frailties of the travel industry and its supply chain have been brutally exposed for all to see.

Some things will need to change and already have, if albeit reactively right now under the extremely challenging circumstances.

But it should loudly be said (Unless you are ACA) that everyone in the travel industry feels deeply for customers who often desperately now need the money and who, like all of us still have no certainty yet on when they can confidently rebook travel in the short term – particularly overseas.

Aside from being stood down, having their hours reduced or losing their job or business altogether, the agents still working are copping anger, anxiety and needless abuse every single day on the front line.

Why is their mental health and the direct impact on them from incendiary media stories like this not worth a mention as part of the story too?

Everyone is out of pocket and have lost their immediate travel plans and dreams thanks to an extraordinary global event.

From a customers point of view, if it falls out of the terms and conditions or insurance then understandably, it is unfortunate to have to accept a credit rather than a full refund or worse, lose money.

It’s not great at all. None of this is. It’s hideous frankly.

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So are segments like these helpful for anyone?

Without the full story to give it some perspective, and some solid facts and balanced opinion to back it up, they only appear to make matters worse for everyone – and that includes customers and the industry.

Some mainstream media loves to point fingers and drive controversy for a good story. The sad reality is that usually, it’s ordinary people like the customers involved here that get led up a garden path, only to be left holding an empty basket once the camera and bright lights have moved on to the next sensationalised moment.

The ‘Save our Zoos’ segment on ACA following ‘The Ugly Refund Dispute’ tells the story about how Australian Zoos and Aquariums are struggling to stay in business through COVID-19.

Throughout another sad segment tugging on the heartstrings, we see exotic caged animals such as Lions, Chimpanzees and Polar Bears and hear how dolphins consume $500 worth of fish per week in their tanks. Thanks to some local farmers donating food for the animals such as hay, they have been able to remain open.

Mishi, the Polar Bear “really misses having guests around,” says a trainer. So too, do the Antarctic penguins huddled together in a small inside enclosure who currently have “no excited visitors to occupy them through the glass.”

Really?

Zoos and Aquariums have since been given a $94.6 million support package lifeline from the government (no doubt thanks to ACA), but perhaps they should just close them altogether if they’re not viable anymore?

But that’d be kicking the boot in, controversial and insensitive you might say.

All the industry is asking for here is some balance and fairness to the story along with a bit of empathy.