Calls for improved Australian consumer law after woman’s two-year flight refund battle with Webjet

A simple request for a refund on flights that were cancelled due to Covid has resulted in a 33-month battle between a Melbourne woman and an online travel booking agent.

In January 2020, Tanya Hanouch, 40, used Webjet to buy return flights to Phuket, Thailand for herself and her partner for around $2000.

Booked for June 2020, they were unable to take the Qantas-operated flights due to strict travel restrictions caused by Covid-19.

In the 33 months since, Ms Hanouch has exchanged countless emails and calls with Webjet, and later Qantas, while fighting to keep her Melbourne bar alive during the pandemic.

As a conservative estimate, she thinks she’s spent “well over 150 hours” in the futile exercise.

“The struggle has been with Webjet. You’ll call and you’ll wait on the phone for the good part of an hour and a half and then the phone will cut out so you have to call again,” she told

“If you just go on their messenger app, it cuts out after you’ve been waiting for another hour and a half to two hours to try and talk to someone and then it cuts out again.

“Their systems aren’t great to say the least.”

After speaking to Webjet customer service representatives, Ms Hanouch was then told to send a query to Qantas. Upon contacting the airline, she was referred back to her agent. The continuous saga between Webjet and Qantas failed to proffer a solution.

Instead, she was told she’d only be eligible for a flight credit, which would have only paid for half the cost of new tickets.

“Webjet fed me all sorts of reasons why they couldn’t give me a refund,” said Ms Hanouch.

“They hadn’t done the right thing by the customers and I think it’s just a way of holding onto people’s money.”

Her frustrations were compounded by the financial struggles presented by Melbourne’s rolling lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021.

Speaking about her small neighbourhood bar in the Melbourne suburb of Bentleigh, Ms Hanouch said her business was “on the brink”.

“We’re on a knife’s edge constantly and we’re still not out of the woods by any stretch,” she said.

“That $2000 would have helped us out quite a bit, even if it was just being able to pay our rent while we were really struggling.

“It still would, even to this day. That money would help in terms of just general household expenses, because I’m not paying myself at the moment.”

Her frustrations led her to getting in contact with consumer advocate Adam Glezer of Consumer Champion to help petition on her behalf. During a three-way call between Qantas and Webjet, Ms Hanouch and Mr Glezer say they were told by Qantas that they would be able to offer Ms Hanouch a refund, however, Webjet would need to apply for the refund.

“I managed to find out that all along Webjet haven’t applied for a refund on my behalf,” she said.

“It’s almost deceitful. I was disappointed.”

However, when she put these claims to Webjet, the company maintained her tickets were non-refundable – a statement which was confirmed by Qantas.

While approached Webjet with these claims, the online travel business refused to comment and maintained Ms Hanouch’s flight was non-refundable. Qantas also declined to comment and advised we redirect our questions to Webjet.

Consumer advocate Mr Glezer told that Ms Hanouch’s case is a clear example of the blame game between the airlines and the travel agent, which bounces the customer between the two camps.

“The only person that actually suffers in this situation is the customer,” said Mr Glezer.

“There is still a significant number of people battling to try and get money back that they paid pre-pandemic.”

Mr Glezer said he’s received “a number” of complaints from customers with issues against both travel providers and travel agents, including Webjet.

A lot of the issues come down to a “complete lack of transparency” which means consumers are limited in how they can fight for their rights unless they “have a lot of persistence”.

Instead, he says the travel industry is in “desperate need of regulation” as well as “sanctions” and “deterrents” for agents who mislead customers.

“We need laws more like what they’ve got in the United States, where if you are meant to be flying into, out of, or within the United States, if your flight is cancelled for any reason, then they legally have to give you a full refund,” said Mr Glezer.

“It’s that simple. That way there will be no grey areas or situations, like Ms Hanouch’s, in which a travel agent can say she is not entitled to a refund because it is the law in the country.”

In 2020, travel problems made up the majority of the 109,466 complaints that the ACCC received in the first 10 months of the year, indicating a year-on-year increase of 497 per cent.

“Common misconduct we’ve received complaints about during the pandemic includes businesses misleading consumers about their right to a refund, or deducting cancellation fees from refunds when there is no contractual basis to do so,” said ACCC Deputy Chair Sarah Court.

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