The row between Rex and Qantas over network expansion hit a withering new low on Wednesday when the regional airline unveiled a print advert showcasing Qantas customer complaints about COVID refunds.
The comments follow a long-running war of words between the pair, which has previously seen Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce mock Rex’s “empty aircraft” and Rex’s deputy chairman John Sharp argue that he doesn’t know how Joyce can “look at himself in the mirror some mornings”.
The advert, which you can read below, features 45 apparent examples of passenger anger at the flag carrier being slow to process refunds.
Examples include quotes claiming Qantas “can’t be trusted” and are “horrible to deal with”, as well as an anecdote stating someone waited on hold for five-and-a-half hours.
Qantas said in response it has actually assisted more than 2.5 million customers whose flights have been impacted by pandemic border restrictions.
Rex’s latest attack revolves around different policies to COVID related refunds. Rex has been unique during the pandemic by offering any passenger affected by border closures or restrictions their money back.
This compares with offers by Virgin Australia and Qantas that only allow cash refunds if the flight is cancelled by the operator, but not if restrictions change banning certain passengers from flying.
The larger airlines do however have a variety of mitigation policies including waiving change fees and giving flight credits.
Rex, however, has accused Qantas of engaging in “under-handed tactics to avoid a refund at all costs”.
“Qantas passengers have highlighted that this includes burying the refund application form deep in an obscure corner of the website, making passengers wait for hours on the phone, registering requests and not following up, and pressuring passengers to accept a credit instead of a cash refund,” said Rex.
On 19 June 2020, the ACCC’s COVID-19 Taskforce raised concerns with Qantas after it said it had received “hundreds of complaints” from passengers whose flights were suspended or cancelled due to travel restrictions, but who were given credits “instead of the refunds they were entitled to”.
Rex said on Wednesday that “it is obvious that Qantas paid lip service to the ACCC but then effectively ignored the ACCC’s direction”.
“Rex estimates between $1 billion to $2 billion worth of tickets that are legally due for a refund have not been refunded, with many passengers waiting for over a year to get their money back,” it said.
“A few Qantas passengers have even resorted to posting on Rex’s social media in a desperate cry for help. Rex has collected all public postings from various sources, numbering over 500, and forwarded them to the ACCC and has called on the ACCC to investigate if Qantas and Virgin Australia have breached Australian consumer laws if they did engage in the alleged actions highlighted above.”
In response, Qantas told Australian Aviation, “Since the start of the pandemic Qantas has assisted more than 2.5 million customers whose flights have been impacted by COVID-19 border restrictions, and offered increased flexibility for all customers, whatever ticket they buy.
“If a customer’s flight is cancelled due to COVID travel restrictions they can already choose a refund, a voucher or to travel at a later date. Despite Rex’s repeated attempts to drag Qantas into a public slanging match, our focus will remain on our customers and our people.”
Australian Aviation also understands that Qantas disputes Rex’s claim the airline is holding on to billions of dollars worth of unrefunded tickets.
The row between the two airlines began in February when Rex accused Qantas of uncompetitive behaviour by launching rival services on its previously exclusive routes such Melbourne–Merimbula and Melbourne to Wagga Wagga.
“Rex’s idea of competition is that it’s something that happens to other people, because they believe they have an enshrined right to be the only carrier on some regional routes,” Qantas said.
Last month, Joyce and Sharp exchanged withering newspaper columns about each other in the AFR.
“It’s a well-known fact in the industry that Rex has now chalked up another dubious honour,” wrote Joyce. “It has presided over the worst launch of a new jet airline in Australia’s aviation history, with empty aircraft and announced routes that have never been flown.”
It came after Sharp wrote that Joyce was a hypocrite for going “cap in hand” to the federal government for help.
Finally, on the Australian Aviation podcast, Sharp claimed Joyce sees himself as a “wizard” but is actually failing his staff, customers and shareholders.
“Qantas has got this arrogant approach that we’re too big to fail and that we’re an icon,” said Sharp. “We play We Still Call Australia Home in the cabin to remind people that we’re the Australian airline. They call themselves a national carrier, but they’ve been privatised. They’re this big bully.”