‘Backwards step’: Qantas rejects customer compensation scheme

Qantas named Australia's 'least reliable' airline

Qantas has rejected a push to compensate airline customers for flight delays and cancellations as a “backwards step” that would lead to higher fares in Australia.

The airline released its 255-page submission to the federal government’s broad-reaching aviation green paper, which aims to set the sector’s policy direction to 2050.

The embattled group acknowledged the return to flying after the pandemic had been beset by “acute” challenges, and Qantas in particular had been under scrutiny for its “shortcomings”.

“For our customers, this meant unacceptable levels of flight delays and cancellations, issues with refunds and credits, missing baggage and poor contact centre experiences — all of which the Qantas Group has sincerely apologised for, and has worked hard to fix,” the submission said.

But Qantas said calls from some Australian consumer groups for an industry compensation program similar to Europe’s EU261 “will do nothing to reduce delays and cancellations”.

Instead it would “increase confusion and complaints and materially increase costs, ultimately leading to higher fares and potentially compromising the viability of marginal routes”.

All European Union flights offer compensation, refunds or rerouting for problems such as delays and cancellations, and the statute outlines how much passengers qualify for.

However, Qantas said Europe’s system was never intended to address flight disruptions, but was designed to deal with “overbooking practices”.

Qantas said EU261 “hasn’t led to a reduction in the amount of disruption” and had actually recorded more customer complaints, not less.

“That increase in delays and cancellations has been in large part
attributable to events outside airlines’ control, including weather, and air traffic control issues,” it said.

Qantas said Australia should not go down the compensation road without close examination of the consequences, which could include:

  • The inflationary impact on fares for what will effectively be mandatory travel insurance for all passengers (including domestically);
  • The significant implications for low-cost carriers and the low-fare model; and
  • The likely negative effect on marginal routes, particularly the impact on services to Australia’s uniquely vast and scattered regional network, where recovery options are more limited.

Airlines brace for busiest day

Meanwhile jet-setters eager to escape the city for Christmas are being advised to get to the airport early as airlines predict their busiest day in four years.

After years of disruption, the air travel industry is almost back to pre-pandemic levels and expected to reach new heights on Friday as public schools around the country shut their gates for the year.

Qantas and Jetstar are expecting more than 8.5 million passengers on nearly 70,000 flights throughout December and January – more than half a million more people than the same time last year and the most since 2019/20.

Friday will be the group’s single busiest day of the holiday period, with more than 150,000 customers set to take to the skies.

Virgin expects to carry 3.3 million passengers across its network during December and January – a 9 per cent increase on last year.

The Qantas group has brought forward maintenance on its aircraft, placed extra planes on stand-by and brought on more staff, while Virgin is offering additional services on popular domestic and short-haul international routes.

New Sydney Airport boss Scott Charlton said staff were prepared for the airport’s biggest holiday period in four years.

“This is the first Christmas holiday since 2019 that the border with mainland China is open and demand is strong, with seat capacity back to pre-COVID levels as we head into 2024,” he said.

Across the three-week Christmas period, which stretches from December 14 to January 3, Sydney Airport expects to usher 2.6 million travellers through its terminals – almost 500,000 more than last year.

The Australian aviation industry’s on-time performance has nose-dived in recent years, from 90 per cent of flights departing and arriving on time in October 2020 to 71.1 per cent this year, as airlines battle to keep up with rising passenger demand.

Cancellations have increased to 3.8 per cent from the long-term average of 2.2 per cent.

While Sydney Airport anticipated no more delays than usual, extra staff have been brought on to help ease passengers through the gates.

It advises customers to turn up early and pre-book parking as space is likely to be at a premium.

The last two Fridays before Christmas are traditionally the busiest days of the period as travellers make a hasty getaway after schools and businesses wind down for the year.

-with AAP

Topics: Qantas
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