Embattled airline Qantas has hit back at allegations brought by the competition watchdog that it illegally sold tickets for already cancelled flights.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court in late August, claiming Qantas sold airfares for 8000 services scheduled to depart between May and July last year after the airline had already to cancelled the flights.
But in an ASX note filed on Monday, while acknowledging that “mistakes were made” during its post-Covid restart, Qantas rejected the claim it had sold fares for “ghost flights”, saying passengers were given an alternative flight as soon as possible or offered a full refund.
“While all airlines work hard to operate flights to schedule, no airline can guarantee that,” the Qantas statement said.
“This was not a case of ‘fee for no service’.”
The ACCC claimed Qantas sold fares for already cancelled flights for, on average, two weeks and as long as 47 days after they had already been cancelled.
While Qantas admitted some flights remained on sale for more than 48 hours after they were cancelled, the airline insisted that the decision had not been made for commercial gain and was instead due to a “period of massive upheaval”.
“Due to system limitations and the sheer number of flights involved, we couldn’t remove these flights from sale automatically while also providing impacted customers with alternative flights,” Qantas claimed.
Qantas also rejected claims that flights had been cancelled to protect the airline’s takeoff and landing “slots” on the basis that waivers were in place at most airports during that time.
Instead, Qantas argued that the reason behind delaying the removal of cancelled flights from sale was to give staff time to establish alternative travel options for customers, avoid further blowouts in call centre wait times, and in some cases, due to human error.
In September, ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the regulator would target a penalty of $250m, for behaviour, the competition watchdog alleges was “false, misleading or deceptive”.
Since legal action was brought against Qantas, the airline has updated its policies to remove cancelled flights immediately, well inside the 48 hours that the ACCC case flags.
“While this level of upheaval is hopefully never repeated, we have strengthened our systems and processes to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” the statement said.
At a time of sky high fares and poor customer service, the ACCC received 1300 complaints in just 12 months relating to flight cancellations.
Just days after ACCC filed its lawsuit in the Federal Court against the national carrier, then Qantas boss Alan Joyce announced his early exit from the role as the airline faced a litany of crises
Joyce’s departure promoted chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson to the top job. She has since sought to improve relationships with key stakeholders including the ACCC and the union movement.
Qantas’ directors are expected to face a significant backlash from shareholders at the airline’s upcoming annual general meeting, scheduled for Friday, with the decision to award Joyce a $20 million pay packet anticipated to be the subject of intense scrutiny.