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Domestic travel recovery reaches 89% of pre-COVID levels

written by Hannah Dowling | June 8, 2022

Virgin and Qantas aircraft lined up at BNE. (Rob Finlayson)

The number of people travelling domestically in April reached 89 per cent of pre-COVID numbers, as the Easter and Anzac Day holidays brought travellers out in droves.

According to a report released by the ACCC on Wednesday, 4.5 million people travelled within Australia in April, marking the highest number seen since the beginning of the pandemic, and a figure that has nearly doubled since the Omicron outbreak decimated recovery efforts in February.

Despite figures being just 11 per cent below 2019 levels, the busy April period sparked chaos throughout Australia’s airports and airlines, as the industry struggled to adapt to the influx of passengers amid staff shortages.

“Airlines and airports enjoyed strong demand at Easter, but the combination of high passenger numbers and staff shortages created operational challenges for them,” said ACCC commissioner Anna Brakey.

It comes after the news that domestic flight delays in April were the worst since records began – with almost 40 per cent of arrivals and departures not on time.

According to the ACCC report, airlines increased flight capacity throughout the summer, only to be met with less demand than expected, as the Omicron surge continued to spread throughout the eastern states.

“A lot of capacity deployed over December 2021 and January 2022 went unused as expectations of a busy summer period went unfulfilled,” the report states.

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“The airlines reduced capacities in February in response, although the fall in capacity may also have reflected shortages in staff levels due to illness and isolation requirements.”

Elsewhere in the report, the ACCC also said that it had concluded its investigation into Qantas’ alleged anti-competitive and “predatory” behaviour in late March, after Rex sparked a formal complaint, confirming an earlier claim made by Qantas.

Meanwhile, the consumer watchdog also confirmed that it is continuing to investigate Qantas’ flight credit policy, after receiving an influx of complaints from Qantas customers.

In March, Australian Aviation reported that the ACCC was appealing to the public for evidence that Qantas is raising prices on tickets purchased with flight credits accrued during COVID.

It followed separate earlier “price gouging” investigations that showed some customers paying more than double the price for economy seats when paying with Qantas flight credits, over those paying with cash or card.

Qantas denies the accusation and has indicated any fare discrepancies are due to recent rules that restrict flight credit holders to only purchase tickets of the same fare class or higher. Virgin and Rex customers, however, are not affected by similar policies.

Australian Aviation can reveal the consumer watchdog has now opened a public consultation for Qantas customers attempting to cash in flight credits earned throughout the pandemic.

The ACCC said, “In particular, we’re interested if the available fare prices for flights are higher when you try to book using your flight credit than when you try to book using other forms of payment (such as cash or credit card) on Qantas’ website.”

In the five-minute survey, the ACCC asked affected customers to provide details and evidence (such as screenshots) that they have been offered higher airfares when booking new flights with flight credit, as opposed to customers paying with cash or card.

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