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Qantas breaks silence after nightmare week

Qantas’s reputation has ‘been hit hard on several fronts’, the national carrier has conceded. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
Qantas’s reputation has ‘been hit hard on several fronts’, the national carrier has conceded. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

Qantas’s reputation has “been hit hard on several fronts”, but the national carrier has vowed to repair it.

In a statement on Monday, Qantas pledged to regain Australia’s trust after a nightmare week plagued by the consumer watchdog’s allegations that the airline had sold tickets for “ghost flights”, a grilling by senators over competitors’ flights, backlash over bonuses, and a blowout in Covid refunds.

The Australian Consumer and Consumption Commission launched action in the Federal Court on Thursday, alleging the national carrier had “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct” by selling sale tickets for more than 8000 already-cancelled flights between May and July last year.

The ACCC is seeking to penalise the airline by more than $250m.

The ACCC alleges Qantas sold tickets for more than 8000 already-cancelled flights. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
The ACCC alleges Qantas sold tickets for more than 8000 already-cancelled flights. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

In a statement on Monday, a Qantas spokesperson conceded the airline’s service standards had “fell short”.

The spokesperson said the airline was aware that the ACCC allegations especially had “caused significant concern among our customers”, but the allegations were being taken seriously.

“The ACCC’s allegations come at a time when Qantas’s reputation has already been hit hard on several fronts,” the spokesperson said.

“We want the community to know that we hear and understand their disappointment.

“We know it will take time to repair. And we are absolutely determined to do that.”

The spokesperson said the period of time that the consumer watchdog’s claims relate to – mid-2022 – was “one of well-publicised upheaval and uncertainty across the aviation industry”.

Qantas also denied suggestions it had engaged in charging a “fee for no service” and said it would address the allegations in full “without cutting across the legal process”.

“Our longstanding practice is that when a flight is cancelled, customers are offered an alternative flight as close as possible to their original departure time or a refund,” the spokesperson said.

In launching its action, the ACCC alleged Qantas “kept selling tickets on its website” for an average of more than two weeks – sometimes up to 47 days – after the flights had been cancelled.

It also alleges that for more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart over the three months, Qantas “did not notify existing ticketholders” that their flights had been cancelled for an average of 18 days but in some cases up to 48 days.

“The ACCC alleges that for about 70 per cent of cancelled flights, Qantas either continued to sell tickets for the flight on its website for two days or more or delayed informing existing ticketholders that their flight was cancelled for two days or more or both,” the ACCC said last week.

Qantas Chief Alan Joyce
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce fronted a senate hearing last week. Picture NCA NewsWire / Aaron Francis

Earlier last week, a parliamentary hearing on Monday revealed Qantas owed $100m more in Covid flight refunds than was previously thought – forcing the airline to back down on its December 2023 expiry plans.

It was also revealed Qantas had voiced its concern to the government about Qatar Airways’ pitch to double its flights to Australia’s east coast – a move that was welcomed by industry but eventually blocked by Labor.

Qantas’ bad week was topped off on Friday when it was revealed chief executive Alan Joyce was granted $10.8m in shares for bonuses deferred during the pandemic – all the while Qantas maintained it had no obligation to pay back the $2.7bn in government payments it received during Covid-19.

Last month, Qantas recorded a $2.47bn profit for the 2022-23 financial year.

Mr Joyce is stepping down as chief executive in November, but after arguably one of the worst weeks in the airline’s history, there are calls for him to leave his post earlier.