SYDNEY — Australian carrier Qantas Airways
said that it sold tickets for flights that it knew had been canceled because of internal systems’ shortcomings rather than for financial gain.
Qantas, which faces legal action over the issue following allegations by Australia’s consumer watchdog, on Monday said that its systems had been unable to cope with the volume of changes it made to flight schedules amid shortages of aircraft and staff in the first half of 2022.
It said it had delayed telling customers their flights had been canceled to avoid putting pressure on its call centers and to buy time to put passengers onto other flights. Its systems did not automatically remove canceled flights from sale while this was happening, it added.
“All customers on cancelled flights were offered an alternative flight or refund. There was no ‘fee for no service,’” Qantas said.
It denied that it had delayed acknowledging cancellations in order to protect takeoff and landing slots at airports.
In August, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brought court action against Qantas, alleging that it engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by selling tickets for more than 8,000 canceled flights. It sold tickets for an average of more than two weeks after cancellation, and in some cases up to 47 days, the ACCC alleged.
The carrier also failed to notify ticket-holders for more than 10,000 flights of cancellations for an average of 18 days, or as long as 48 days, the ACCC said. The delays left customers with less time to make alternative arrangements and may have led to them paying higher prices, ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said at the time.
“This case does not involve any alleged breach in relation to the actual cancellation of flights, but rather relates to Qantas’s conduct after it had cancelled the flights,” Cass-Gottlieb said.
On Monday, Qantas said that it had struggled with aircraft and staff shortages more than other airlines because it had ramped up services so quickly amid the relaxation of COVID-era travel restrictions. It had been blindsided by supply chain issues and high levels of staff absences due to the COVID-19 omicron variant, it said.
“It was only after our flying schedule had been set that the full extent of the operational challenges we faced became clear,” Qantas said.
Qantas added that it has updated its systems to avoid a repeat of the issues.
The carrier holds its annual general meeting on Friday, when several directors are standing for election or re-election. Alan Joyce recently stepped down early as chief executive, while Chairman Richard Goyder plans to retire ahead of next year’s AGM as the company seeks to repair its battered reputation among customers.