Qantas says it has filed its official legal defence in an Australian federal court for a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that has been brought against the airline by competition regulators who accuse Qantas of selling tickets for thousands of flights that had already been cancelled.
But while Qantas admits that it let customers down as it ramped up operations following a lengthy pandemic-era shutdown, from a “purely legal” standpoint, the airline claims the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s case against it should be thrown out.
Qantas’ defence relies on the fact that airlines can never guarantee that a flight will take off on time and that cancellations and delays are inevitable. In fact, even the ACCC admits this is a reality of air travel due to various issues like bad weather or operational issues.
For Qantas, its operational issues included supply chain delays and mass sickouts, leading to staffing shortages, just as it was trying to ramp up operations as pandemic travel restrictions were lifted.
The airline had scheduled thousands of flights that it hoped to operate, but those ambitions were hopelessly unrealistic. As a result, Qantas axed thousands of flights but failed to tell customers straight away.
Qantas now claims it didn’t bother telling customers that their travel plans had been disrupted because it wanted to give rebooking teams more time to establish alternative flights. The airline also says it was hoping to avoid “blowing out” its under siege call centres that were also understaffed.
In some cases, the airline also admits that “human error” resulted in customers not being told their flight had been cancelled.
In its defence, Qantas says every single domestic passenger affected by a cancellation was offered an alternative flight within one hour of the original scheduled departure, while 98% of international passengers were offered an alternative flight within one day of their original flight.
“As we’ve said from the start of this case, we fully acknowledge that the period examined by the ACCC was extremely difficult for our customers,” the airline said in a statement on Monday.
“Restarting flying after the COVID shutdowns proved a challenge for the whole industry, with staff shortages and supply chain issues coinciding with huge pent-up demand.”
“Qantas cancelled thousands of flights as a result, and there were many unacceptable delays. While we restarted safely, we got many other things wrong and, for that, we have sincerely apologised,” the statement continued.
Qantas has refuted claims that the airline was obtaining a ‘fee for no service’ on so-called ‘ghost flights’, although the ACCC will allege in court that customers were left out of pocket by paying more for certain flights that had already been cancelled and then being rebooked onto a new flight.
The fallout from the unprecedented lawsuit ultimately led to former CEO Alan Joyce leaving Qantas two months early and has led to new chief executive Vanessa Hudson making a slew of promises to improve the airline’s tarnished reputation.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.