Australia’s consumer and competition watchdog has hit Qantas Airways with a A$100 million ($66.2 million) civil penalty for advertising and selling tickets on flights that it had decided to cancel.

“Qantas has admitted that it misled consumers by advertising tickets for tens of thousands of flights it had already decided to cancel, and by cancelling thousands more flights without promptly telling ticket holders, after court action by the ACCC,” the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission says.


Source: Bahnfrend/Wikimedia Commons

The ACCC took issue with Qantas’s handling of canellations during 2021-2022

Qantas’s penalty of A$100 million – imposed for breaching consumer laws – will need to be cleared by Australia’s Federal Court.

In addition, the carrier has agreed to pay A$20 million in restitution for 86,000 passengers who bought tickets on the cancelled flights. Domestic customers will receive about A$250 each, and international travellers about A$450.

The ACCC observes that the A$20 million undertaking is legally enforceable.

“We are pleased to have secured these admissions by Qantas that it misled its customers, and its agreement that a very significant penalty is required as a result of this conduct,” says ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb.

“The size of this proposed penalty is an important milestone in enforcing the Australian Consumer Law. Qantas’s 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-Gottlieb observes that Qantas decided not to contest the case. “We acknowledge Qantas’s cooperation in ultimately deciding not to contest this case, admitting that the conduct occured for a longer period, and seeking to resolve this early and for the benefit of consumers.”

In August 2023, the ACCC alleged that between 21 May 2021 and 7 July 2022, Qantas advertised tickets for over 8,000 cancelled flights. For 10,000 flights scheduled from May to July 2022, the ACCC alleged that Qantas failed to “promptly notify” passengers about cancellations.

Qantas originally rebutted the claims, stating that the ACCC’s lawsuit ignored “the realities” of the airline sector, particularly during the challenging coronavirus pandemic.

But days after the ACCC lawsuit news emerged, Qantas Group’s long-time chief executive Alan Joyce stepped down two months earlier than planned. On 6 September he handed the reins to Vanessa Hudson, formerly the carrier’s finance chief.

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

“We know many of our customers were affected by our failure to provide cancellation notifications in a timely manner and we are sincerely sorry. The return to travelling was already stressful for many and we did not deliver enough support for customers and did not have the technology and systems in place to support our people. We have since updated our processes and are investing in new technology across the Qantas Group to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”