Australian airline Qantas has been hit with a lawsuit from the country’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), for allegedly selling tickets for flights it had already internally cancelled.
According to Reuters, the ACCC’s investigation found that Qantas had cancelled over 15,000 domestic and international flights between May and July, 2022, and had kept selling tickets to over 8,000 of these flights after the cancellation. In some cases, tickets were still being sold up to 47 days after the flight had been cancelled.
The incident has caused significant issues for passengers, who were only notified of their cancelled flights at the last minute, forcing them to make alternative arrangements and potentially pay higher prices. Qantas also allegedly did not update their ‘Manage Booking’ web page for ticketholders to reflect the cancellation, further adding to the issues faced by customers.
The ACCC’s Chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, released a statement about the lawsuit saying, “The ACCC has conducted a detailed investigation into Qantas’ flight cancellation practices. As a result, we have commenced these proceedings alleging that Qantas continued selling tickets for thousands of cancelled flights, likely affecting the travel plans of tens of thousands of people. We allege that Qantas’ conduct in continuing to sell tickets to cancelled flights, and not updating ticketholders about cancelled flights, left customers with less time to make alternative arrangements and may have led to them paying higher prices to fly at a particular time not knowing that flight had already been cancelled.”
She further acknowledged the issues long distances between Australian city’s can cause, saying, “There are vast distances between Australia’s major cities. Reliable air travel is essential for many consumers in Australia who are seeking to visit loved ones, take holidays, grow their businesses or connect with colleagues. Cancelled flights can result in significant financial, logistical and emotional impacts for consumers.”
Rico Merkert, deputy director of Sydney University’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, has said that the lawsuit “could be detrimental for the Qantas brand, which has had a bit of a tough patch lately in any case.”
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who will retire in November after 15 years, stated that the airline “[knows] the credit system was not as smooth as it should have been and … people lost faith in the process” and that they have scrapped the 2023 deadline, with Joyce saying in a video message that “we know the credit system was not as smooth as it should have been and … people lost faith in the process”
The maximum penalty Qantas faces is 10% of annual turnover, which was A$19.8 billion ($12.8 billion) in the year to June. The ACCC did not specify an amount.
The investigation, which included detailed data analysis of 66,000 domestic and international flights, is ongoing. The ACCC is seeking orders including penalties, injunctions, declarations, and costs.