In continuing woes for Australian airline Qantas, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is suing the carrier for misleading consumers by continuing to advertise for over 8,000 flights that had already been cancelled between May and June 2022.
According to materials shared via their website, the ACCC alleges that 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. Additionally, they also allege that for 10,000 flights scheduled to depart in the period mentioned, the carrier failed to notify existing ticketholders that their flights had been cancelled for an average of about 18 days—and in certain cases, for up to 48 days.
Qantas is also accused of failing to update their “Manage Booking” page for ticketholders to reflect the cancellation, leading to approximately 70% of cancelled flights either continuing to sell on their website for two days or more, or notices informing existing stakeholders of their flight cancellations being delayed for two days or more, or both.
The ACCC compiled the results of their investigation following engagement with impacted consumers, as well as detailed data analysis by their specialist analysts. During this process, they found that Qantas cancelled nearly one in four flights in the period from May to July 2022, with about 15,000 out of 66,000 domestic and international flights from airports in all states and mainland territories in Qantas’ published schedule being cancelled.
The legal action currently being undertaken accounts for nearly 10,000 of these flights.
As an example of the conduct, ticketholders scheduled to fly on Qantas flight QF93 from Melbourne to Los Angeles on 6 May 2022 were first notified of the cancellation on 4 May, two days before the scheduled departure, and four days after Qantas had cancelled the flight.
One consumer was provided with a replacement flight a day before their original departure date, which was communicated only by the Qantas app. As a result, the consumer had to change connecting flights and had a 15-hour layover in Los Angeles, which had a significant impact on the consumer and left them $600 out of pocket.
There are several other such examples listed via the ACCC’s website, alongside a list of the affected flights.
“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,” ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said via a statement on their website.
“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.”
Airlines are allowed to cancel flights in the short term if unforeseeable circumstances arise, including bad weather, technical or airline defects and delays from previous flights. Flight cancellation can also happen due to a range of factors that are within the control of an airline.
Not the first such allegation for Qantas
These latest developments come following last week’s story in Campaign where Qantas denied engaging in misleading behaviour, despite advertising a special return fare to London on its website that its sales staff could not book for customers.
A complaint filed by a consumer ‘Dave’, alleged that Qantas violated Australian consumer law by advertising return economy flights from Sydney to London's Heathrow airport as one of its "top offers", with costs starting at US$1,576 (AUD$2,455) per adult. But when he tried to book the flights, neither he nor the sales staff at Qantas could find the flight fare—nor did they offer to match based on their advertised promotion.
“I tried and tried, but meeting all the conditions, I could not achieve it with the default dates or indeed any date combination,” Dave wrote in his complaint.
Qantas vehemently denied any misleading conduct, with a representative offering a range of dates that would result in a return rate of US$1,581 (AUD$2,463)—still $8 more than the advertised fare—but this required a trip lasting at least five-and-a-half weeks and returning in November.
The claim is now also being looked into by the ACCC.