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Qantas boss grilled over travel credits

Qantas is under pressure on a number of fronts. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
Qantas is under pressure on a number of fronts. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

Outgoing Qantas boss Alan Joyce has confirmed the company is holding a further $100m in travel credits owed to passengers who had flights cancelled because of Covid during a tense exchange at a Senate committee hearing.

Mr Joyce said the $370m in outstanding travel credits Qantas previously revealed are solely Qantas bookings, and do not include Jetstar or overseas-based bookings.

Mr Joyce made the admission when appearing before a parliamentary inquiry on the cost of living in Melbourne, days after Qantas posted a full-year pre-tax profit result of $2.47bn. Qantas incurred more than $7bn of statutory losses during the pandemic.

The airline’s successful efforts to lobby the federal government to cancel additional Qatar Airways flights to east coast capital cities was also called into question.

In a fiery clash over outstanding flight credits across Qantas and Jetstar, Labor senator Tony Sheldon accused Qantas of investing “too little, too late” in customer service, meaning refunds have been difficult for customers to access.

“$3bn of refunds have been given in the last three years, 4.3 million people have had a refund over that period of time,” Mr Joyce said.

Qantas Chief Alan Joyce
Outgoing Qantas boss Alan Joyce has faced intense questioning over the airline’s recent performance. Picture NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

“Qantas [has] doubled the size of its call centres, with lots more resources in and then call centres average a three minute waiting time.”

Previously, the airline had refused to confirm whether the $370m included Jetstar and overseas bookings.

“You’re not being transparent,” Senator Tony Sheldon said.

“You’ve just admitted there’s another $100m that’s not been disclosed.”

Qantas said it wanted the travel credits to be cleared by the end of the year, and was stepping up efforts to communicate with relevant passengers.

Qantas agreed to provide the committee with a breakdown of the total bookings yet to be refunded.

Asked earlier by Greens senator Penny Allman-Payne to provide any details on conversations he had with the Anthony Albanese or other members of the government about lobbying against increased capacity for Qatar Airways, Mr Joyce refused to answer.

“I’m not going to comment on any conversations that took place,” Mr Joyce said.

ESTIMATES
A fiery clash between Labor senator Tony Sheldon and Qantas chief executive has occurred at the parliamentary inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senator Allman-Payne also asked whether the Prime Minister’s 23-year-old son, Nathan Albanese, was given membership to the Qantas Chairman’s Club. Mr Joyce again declined to answer.

“I will be not be making any comment on that,” Mr Joyce added.

While Mr Joyce cited “significant privacy concerns” which barred him from divulging details of Chairman’s Lounge membership, Nationals senator Matt Canavan said the committee may demand Qantas to reveal details over which family members of politicians have membership.

“It seems to me that this is these grounds are not particularly ones that would be usually accepted by a Senate committee,” senator Canavan said.

“I realised that there are some matters of confidentiality here. And perhaps if I could just through you request that perhaps Mr Joyce could take these questions on notice and come back to us with exactly on what grounds he may not be willing to answer them.”

Qantas Chief Alan Joyce
“I will be not be making any comment on that”: Mr Joyce refused to answer questions regarding Chairman’s Lounge membership. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

Asked by Liberal senator Jane Hume if additional capacity for Qatar Airways would have expanded the number of destinations and pushed down prices for Australian travellers, Mr Joyce asserted that locals would not be worse off.

“The capacity coming back on was going to do that anyway,” Mr Joyce said, pointing to the return to pre-pandemic schedules of Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.

“What we’re seeing is more capacity being added by other carriers, which will reduce market share to other destinations outside London.”

In separate questioning, Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie asked about allegations of slot hoarding’, the practice of deliberately cancelling flights to hold onto takeoff and landing times in order to stifle competition.

Mr Joyce said the airline was the most on time and had the lowest level of cancellations of any of the major carriers for 11 of the last 12 months.

Qantas Chief Alan Joyce
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce tried to justify the national carrier’s record profit result. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

Mr Joyce also defended his remuneration package which Senator Sheldon, who held senior positions with the Transport Workers Union, alleged was $125m over 15 years.

“What I get paid is by the shareholders of Qantas, as per my salary every year, and to relate my salary to how the Qantas share price has performed, and that’s the way every CEO on the ASX works,” Mr Joyce said.

Senator Sheldon retorted, “I would feel embarrassed if I was you.” 

Monday’s hearing was the first time the Qantas boss has fronted the Senate since March 2014. During that previous appearance, Mr Joyce defended the airline‘s choice to cut 5000 jobs and outsource aircraft maintenance work.