Qantas’ image takes another hit with ACCC action over cancelled flights

Qantas “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct” by advertising tickets for more than 8,000 flights that it had already cancelled, according to the consumer watchdog, who today launched Federal Court action against the airline.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges that “for more than 8,000 flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022, Qantas kept selling tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks, and in some cases for up to 47 days, after the cancellation of the flights.”

It is also alleged that, for more than 10,000 flights, “Qantas did not notify existing ticketholders that their flights had been cancelled for an average of about 18 days, and in some cases for up to 48 days.”

In launching action in the Federal Court, ACCC claims Qantas’ conduct “likely affected the travel plans of tens of thousands of people.”

It’s the latest PR hit this week for the national carrier. On Monday outgoing CEO Alan Joyce fronted a Senate committee, answering questions about high airfares in the wake of the airline’s record profit. Qantas has also been under fire over revelations the federal government blocked Qatar Airways from introducing additional flights that would have seen lower fares for travellers.

And it comes after a turbulent twelve months for the airline, which has copped a barrage of bad press over cancelled flights, missing bags and mass IT issues.

Even marketing legend Phillip Adams, who coined ‘the spirit of Australia’ slogan, called the branding “tragically inappropriate” last year, and issued a public plea to have the messaging removed “from all fuselages, tickets, and advertising.”

Last July, when the airline was outsourcing its baggage handling to a number of third-party operators, The Guardian reported that as many as one in ten pieces of luggage were either lost or not even loaded onto Qantas domestic flights at Sydney airport.

A spokesperson for Qantas called the claim “completely inaccurate” but declined to offer alternative statistics.

The Roy Morgan Net Trust rankings also reflected the media coverage of Qantas’ woes: last June, Qantas was deemed by Australians to be the sixth most-trusted brand, behind Woolworths, Coles, Bunnings, ALDI, and Kmart.

In the September 2022 quarter, Qantas slipped to ninth most-trusted brand; by December 2022, they had plummeted to 40th place.

The most recent rankings paint a bleaker picture still.

For the June 2023 period, Qantas is now the 13th most distrusted brand in the economy, and is, for the first time, Australia’s most distrusted airline, surpassing its own budget airline, Jetstar – which is 16th most distrusted.

This ACCC case is likely to do additional brand damage.

“There are vast distances between Australia’s major cities,” explained ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb.

“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.”

The ACCC alleged that for about 70% 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.” In many cases, they allegedly did both.

“We allege that Qantas made many of these cancellations for reasons that were within its control, such as network optimisation including in response to shifts in consumer demand, route withdrawals, or retention of take-off and landing slots at certain airports,” Cass-Gottlieb continued.

“However, this case does not involve any alleged breach in relation to the actual cancellation of flights, but rather relates to Qantas’ conduct after it had cancelled the flights.”


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