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‘Tooth and nail’: Calls to improve flight refunds after Qantas fined $100 million

Source: AAP

Consumer advocates say Australians need better protections against airlines cancelling flights after Qantas was fined $100 million for ‘‘egregious’’ behaviour against more than 86,000 flyers.

The consumer regulator unveiled a legal settlement with the national carrier on Monday in which it admitted advertising “phantom flights” that were sold despite the airline planning to cancel them.

Qantas also cancelled thousands more flights without promptly telling flyers, the ACCC said.

The deal is the latest move from Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson to draw a line under years of public rancour over poor service standards since Covid-19, but some advocates are sceptical.

Adam Glezer from Consumer Champion, which has been helping flyers with Qantas refunds, told The New Daily the airline was acting because it was caught red handed, arguing consumers won’t receive better treatment without a “complete overhaul” at the company.

“They have to concentrate on being consumer-centric rather than trying to get every last dollar off customers,” he said.

“Currently, having Qantas known as the Spirit of Australia is an embarrassment to our country.”

Stronger protections needed

Advocates, including Glezer, were on Monday calling for better consumer protections in the wake of the deal, with Choice suggesting that all Australians should be entitled to refunds on any cancelled flight.

Rosie Thomas, director of campaigns at Choice, said reforms are needed to ensure consumers have stronger refund rights and compensation for cancelled flights.

“Over 80,000 consumers have had their travel plans derailed by Qantas’ behaviour over a number of years and these payments are already well overdue,” Thomas said.

“We’ve heard from countless consumers about having to fight tooth and nail to receive refunds or compensation from airlines for delayed or cancelled flights.”

‘Egregious’: Qantas caught

Under the ACCC settlement Qantas has admitted to misleading consumers and will be fined $100 million, subject to approval by the Federal Court.

It will also compensate more than 86,000 affected customers between $225 and $450 for flight cancellations that occurred over more than two years between 2021 and 2023, which is longer than was initially alleged.

ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said the wrongdoing was serious enough to merit a “very significant” penalty.

“Qantas’ conduct was egregious and unacceptable. Many consumers will have made holiday, business and travel plans after booking on a phantom flight that had been cancelled,” Cass-Gottleib said on Monday.

“We note that Qantas has also agreed not to repeat this type of conduct in the future, and to make payments as soon as possible to the thousands of consumers who purchased tickets on flights that Qantas had already decided to cancel, or were re-accommodated onto these flights after their original flight was cancelled.”

Qantas looks to turn page

From Qantas’ perspective the penalty – worth just 1 per cent of the airline’s 2022 revenue – is another investment in improving its relationship with flyers who have felt scorned by service since the pandemic.

It comes after Hudson unveiled an overhaul of the airline’s frequent flyer program last month, alongside big investments in improving customer experience in a bid to rebuild trust in the flying Kangaroo.

Hudson said in a statement to investors on Monday that the ACCC deal is “another important step as we work towards restoring confidence in the national carrier”.

“When flying resumed after the COVID shutdown, we recognise Qantas let down customers and fell short of our own standards,” Hudson said.

“We know many of our customers were affected by our failure to provide cancellation notifications in a timely manner and we are sincerely sorry.”

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