The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched action in the Federal Court of Australia today (31 August) alleging Qantas engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by advertising tickets for thousands of flights it had already cancelled.
Following a detailed investigation into Qantas’s flight cancellation practices, the ACCC identified that Qantas cancelled about 15,000 out of 66,000 domestic and international flights between May and July 2022, which equates to almost one in four.
The ACCC alleges that Qantas continued to sell tickets for 8000 flights between May and July 2022 for an average of more than two weeks after they had been cancelled. In some cases, ticketholders were not informed until 47 days after the cancellation of their flight.
The ACCC also alleges that for more than 10,000 flights over the same period, Qantas did not notify ticketholders their flights had been cancelled for an average of about 18 days and, in some cases, up to 48 days.
It alleges that for about 70 per cent of cancelled flights, Qantas either 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.
The ACCC is seeking orders including penalties, injunctions, declarations and costs.
ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said tens of thousands of passengers were likely affected, resulting in potentially significant out-of-pocket costs.
“We allege that Qantas’s conduct in continuing to sell tickets to cancelled flights, and not updating ticketholders about cancelled flights, left customers with less time to make alternative arrangements and may have led to them paying higher prices to fly at a particular time not knowing that flight had already been cancelled,” she said.
“There are vast distances between Australia’s major cities. Reliable air travel is essential for many consumers in Australia who are seeking to visit loved ones, take holidays, grow their businesses or connect with colleagues. Cancelled flights can result in significant financial, logistical and emotional impacts for consumers.”
The ACCC gave an example of a flight from Sydney to San Francisco scheduled to depart on 28 July 2023. Qantas sold 21 tickets for this flight after it had been cancelled, including one ticket sold 40 days after cancellation.
In another example, Qantas cancelled a flight from Melbourne to Denpasar on 8 February 2022, but tickets were still available for sale until 24 February and existing ticketholders were not informed of the cancellation until 23 March.
The ACCC said it continues to receive more complaints about Qantas than any other business.
“Last year alone the ACCC received more than 1300 complaints about Qantas cancellations, accounting for half of all complaints about Qantas reported to the ACCC,” it said.
Qantas has also come under fire in recent weeks over separate allegations that it has deliberately cancelled domestic flights, an issue of particular concern at Canberra Airport.
While the ACCC said its court action against Qantas is unrelated to these accusations, it alleges that the cancellations under investigation were preventable.
“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,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“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,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.