The ACCC today launched action in the Federal Court of Australia alleging Qantas Airways (QAN) engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct, by advertising tickets for more than 8,000 flights that it had already cancelled but not removed from sale.
The ACCC alleges that for more than 8,000 flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022, Qantas kept selling tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks, and in some cases for up to 47 days, after the cancellation of the flights.
It is also alleged that, for more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart in May to July 2022, Qantas did not notify existing ticketholders that their flights had been cancelled for an average of about 18 days, and in some cases for up to 48 days. The ACCC alleges that Qantas did not update its “Manage Booking” web page for ticketholders to reflect the cancellation.
This conduct affected a substantial proportion of flights cancelled by Qantas between May to July 2022. The ACCC 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 has conducted a detailed investigation into Qantas’ flight cancellation practices. As a result, we have commenced these proceedings alleging that Qantas continued selling tickets for thousands of cancelled flights, likely affecting the travel plans of tens of thousands of people,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
“We allege that Qantas’ 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.”
“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,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
The ACCC’s investigation included engagement with impacted consumers and the serving of compulsory information notices on Qantas. The investigation, which included detailed data analysis by ACCC specialist data analysts, identified that Qantas cancelled almost 1 in 4 flights in the period from May to July 2022, with about 15,000 out of 66,000 domestic and international flights from airports in all states and mainland territories in Qantas’ published schedule being cancelled. These proceedings relate to more than 10,000 of those cancelled flights.
As an example of the conduct, ticketholders scheduled to fly on Qantas flight QF93 from Melbourne to Los Angeles on 6 May 2022 were first notified of the cancellation on 4 May, two days before the scheduled departure and four days after Qantas had cancelled the flight.
One consumer was provided with a replacement flight a day before their original departure date, which was communicated only by the Qantas app. As a result, the consumer had to change connecting flights and had a 15-hour layover in Los Angeles, which had a significant impact on the consumer and left them $600 out of pocket.
In another example, Qantas sold 21 tickets for QF73 from Sydney to San Francisco scheduled to depart on 28 July 2023 after it had cancelled the flight, with the last ticket being sold 40 days after cancellation.
Airlines may cancel flights in the short term due to a range of unforeseeable reasons including bad weather, aircraft defects and delays from previous flights. Flight cancellation can also happen due to a range of factors that are within the control of an airline.
“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.
“However, 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.”
The ACCC is seeking orders including penalties, injunctions, declarations, and costs.