Rex has said it will now issue cash refunds to passengers within seven days if they are unable to get on a flight for any COVID-related reason.
The airline used the new initiative to take a swipe at rival Qantas, which it said was causing customers “indignity and anguish” with slower processing times.
It comes weeks after Rex published controversial adverts in newspapers showcasing apparent Qantas customer complaints about COVID refunds.
The regional airline’s policy has been unique in that it allows any passenger affected by border closures, lockdowns, or isolation to get their money back in cash.
This compares with offers by Virgin Australia and Qantas that only allow refunds if the flight is cancelled by the operator, but not necessarily if restrictions change banning certain passengers from flying. In this instance, flight credits are generally received.
Rex has now sped up its process to within a week by creating a “dedicated online automated portal”.
The airline’s deputy chairman, John Sharp, said, “Rex has cancelled hundreds of flights due to the recent border closures and lockdowns. Consequently, tens of thousands of Rex passengers are facing cancellation of their flights.
“Without our ground-breaking automated portal, it would take us weeks if not months to manually process this volume of requests.
“Rex believes that its passengers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and should not have to suffer the indignity and anguish that Qantas passengers suffer when trying to get a refund.
“Rex has the financial strength to refund every eligible ticket immediately, unlike Qantas which does not have the liquidity to do so.
“This explains why there are legions of Qantas passengers not refunded even after a year.”
Qantas has continually denied it has misled passengers, and said it has actually assisted more than 2.5 million customers whose flights have been impacted by pandemic border restrictions.
Rex’s print advert attack on the flag carrier in June featured 45 apparent examples of passenger anger at Qantas 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.
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”.
In response, Qantas told Australian Aviation, “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 two airlines have been at loggerheads since 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.
In April, 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.”