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ACCC Chair Suggests Qantas Should Be Subject to “Significant Penalties” in the Range of “Hundreds of Millions” of Dollars

Qantas should face “hundreds of millions” of dollars in penalties after the company engaged in deceitful advertising and sold tickets for flights that have already been canceled, according to the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

“We think the penalties should be in the hundreds of millions, not tens of millions for breaches,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb told ABC Radio National on Sept. 1.

To date, Volkswagen received the highest penalty of $125 million on record due to a breach of Australian consumer law, the consumer watchdog’s chair noted.

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“This is going to be an important test for us; we consider these penalties have been too low,” Ms. Cass-Gottlieb said. “We would want to get to more than twice that figure.”

Ms. Cass-Gottlieb said that Qantas should be penalized an amount that would deter companies from committing misconduct.

On Thursday, the ACCC said that it has already filed legal action against the flag carrier for allegedly advertising more than 8,000 flights that have already been cancelled.

The ACCC added that Qantas kept selling the tickets for an average of two weeks and some for up to 47 days after the cancellation of the flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022.

“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.”

Qantas has recently been caught up in controversy after its chief executive Alan Joyce lobbied to deny the request of Qatar Airways for additional flights in Australia.

The discussions on the rejection of more flights from Qatar’s flag carrier come as a Senate inquiry grilled Qantas CEO Alan Joyce after his company reported an attributable statutory profit after tax of $1.75 billion (US$1.12 billion) in the 12 months to June 30, 2023, swinging from a loss of $860 million in the previous year.

Previously, the Australian Senate summoned Mr. Joyce to explain the airline’s high fares and questionable travel credit schemes.

Qantas is also currently facing a class action lodged by firm Echo Law, which represents passengers who failed to receive refunds for tickets they purchased despite not being able to use them due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Qantas Removes COVID Travel Credits Expiry

Meanwhile, Qantas said that it will remove the expiry date on COVID travel credits due to expire by end-2023. The company will also allow Qantas customers to request refunds for travel credits and Jetstar customers to use their COVID vouchers for flights indefinitely.

In addition, starting Sept. 4, Qantas will double the standard number of Frequent Flyer Points for any flights booked using COVID credit before Dec. 31, 2023.

“These credits and vouchers will never expire. We’re doing this because we’ve listened,” Mr. Joyce said on Aug. 31.

Mr. Joyce said that Qantas is aware that its credit system has not been smooth and committed to improvement in the process.

“All up, this is one of the most flexible approaches that any airline has taken to its COVID credits,” the airline’s chief executive said.

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