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Qantas rebuts claims of bogus ticket sales on cancelled flights

Qantas rebuts claims of bogus ticket sales on cancelled flights
A Airbus SAS A330-300 aircraft of Qantas Airways takes off from Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday, 20 February 2018. (Photo: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)

Qantas Airways rebutted allegations by Australia’s competition regulator that the airline misled passengers by continuing to sell tickets on thousands of flights that it had already decided to cancel.

Launching its fight against the watchdog’s lawsuit, Qantas said Monday that the regulator’s case “ignores the realities of the aviation industry.” The airline didn’t delay telling passengers their flights had been cancelled for commercial gain, and all customers on scrapped services were offered an alternative flight or refund, it said.

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission sued Qantas in late August, claiming the company kept on selling tickets — typically for more than two weeks but sometimes longer than a month — for more than 8,000 scrapped services between May and July 2022. The regulator is seeking a record penalty of more than A$250-million ($158-million).

“The ACCC’s case ignores a fundamental reality and a key condition that applies when airlines sell a ticket,” Qantas said. “While all airlines work hard to operate flights at their scheduled times, no airline can guarantee that.”

Qantas’ defence suggests a protracted court case looms over the so-called ghost flight allegations, which triggered the early retirement of then-CEO Alan Joyce and led to a boardroom cleanout to repair the airline’s brand. Among a raft of scandals that have diminished the reputation of Qantas, the regulator’s accusations of deceit have been perhaps the most damaging.

Qantas shares added 0.3% at the open in Sydney. The stock has sunk by almost one third from a July peak.

The ACCC accused Qantas of taking payments for tickets on flights that it knew, or should have known, were already cancelled. At least one passenger was left A$600 out of pocket, according to the ACCC. In another case, Qantas sold a ticket on a Sydney to San Francisco flight some 40 days after pulling the service, the regulator said. 

The case relates to cancelled flights that were left on sale for longer than 48 hours as the airline attempted to resume normal flying operations after the pandemic.

Some of the longer delays were due to human error and process failures, Qantas said in its statement Monday. Cancelled flights are now manually removed from sale immediately and the airline is working on technology that will automate this process, it said. 

“We acknowledge there were delays and we sincerely regret that this occurred, but crucially, it does not equate to Qantas obtaining a ‘fee for no service’ because customers were re-accommodated on other flights as close as possible to their original time or offered a full refund.”

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