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Last chance to have your say about Qantas cancellations affair

written by Jake Nelson | January 17, 2024

Jake Nelson shot these Qantas 737-800s lined up at Melbourne Airport.

An ACCC survey seeking consumer responses on allegations that Qantas sold tickets to flights it had already cancelled is due to close in two weeks.

The consumer watchdog is calling on customers who held tickets on cancelled Qantas flights scheduled to depart between 1 May 2022 and 31 July 2022 to fill out an online survey regarding the details of cancelled flights, how and when customers were notified, and how they were affected.

The survey, which closes on 31 January, will likely help inform the ACCC’s Federal Court case against Qantas, which alleges that the Flying Kangaroo sold and accepted payment for more than 8,000 flights it had already cancelled, and falsely represented to ticketholders for these flights that they had not been cancelled.

“The ACCC’s case does not allege that the cancellation of the flights was in breach of the consumer law, but concerns the alleged misleading conduct after Qantas had cancelled these flights,” the Commission said.

The ACCC notes that under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), services such as flights have “automatic consumer guarantees that they will be supplied within a reasonable time”, and passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled may be entitled to refunds or replacements “depending on the circumstances and the terms and conditions of the booking”.


“If the delay or cancellation is for reasons within the airline’s control, consumers are entitled to an alternative flight or a refund under the ACL consumer guarantees regime,” the ACCC said.

“If the delay or cancellation is for reasons outside of the airline’s control, the consumer’s right to a refund or replacement travel service will generally depend on the terms and conditions of their booking.

“The ACCC expects airlines to be honest and proactive in advising consumers of the reasons why a flight is delayed or cancelled, and what consumers are entitled to under the ACL and their terms and conditions.”

In its response to the ACCC’s case, Qantas said it sold passengers “bundles of contractual rights” rather than tickets to any particular flight, and blamed “human error and process failures” for the delay in informing customers.

“In purely legal terms, the ACCC’s case ignores a fundamental reality and a key condition that applies when airlines sell a ticket,” Qantas argued.

“While all airlines work hard to operate flights at their scheduled times, no airline can guarantee that. That’s because the nature of travel – when weather and operational issues mean delays and cancellations are inevitable and unavoidable – makes such a guarantee impossible.

“For this reason, our promise is to get customers on their way to their destination as close as possible to the flight time they book, either on their original or an alternative service at no additional cost. If not, we offer a full refund. This is consistent with our obligations under consumer law and is what we did during the period the ACCC examined.”

The decision to go ahead with court action came from an analysis of data showing Qantas cancelled almost a quarter of flights between May and July 2022, or 15,000 of 66,000 scheduled domestic flights departing from all states and mainland territories

The watchdog said that for 70 per cent of these cancelled flights, Qantas “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, or both”.

A day after the ACCC announced legal action, chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb suggested Qantas should be fined more than $250 million if found guilty.

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