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Joyce vs Choice – Qantas chief hits back at accusations

December 12, 2016 Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has hit back at consumer advocacy group Choice, calling Choice’s allegations that the airline treats consumers unfairly “pretty sensational claims”.

Choice didn’t single out Qantas. It accused Virgin, Jetstar and Tigerair as well, saying they were all treating customers unfairly, Choice alleges that the airlines may have breached Australian Consumer Law.

The consumer lobby group has lodged a comprehensive complaint on the issue with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). It can be downloaded as a PDF file here.

Choice says that three out of the four major domestic airlines have a blanket “no refund” policy, which contradicts consumer law.

“We often see other businesses in other industries held to task for exactly these sorts of practices; it’s time that airlines cleaned up their act,” Choice director of campaigns and communications, Matt Levey, told ABC News.

Choice also accused airlines of exorbitant cancellation fees, up to 100% of the ticket, or up to AUD 550 per ticket.

Choice said airlines were not offering consumers adequate remedies when their flights were delayed or cancelled. Some consumers were offered no remedy at all.

The lobby group accuses airlines of dodging responsibility to deliver flights on time despite charging premium prices for peak flight times. It says travellers are denied fair treatment when something goes wrong, whereas airlines in Europe are forced to pay consumers compensation.

Choice further charges that passengers given credit on future flights are not being given access to that credit; that some airlines don’t seem to give cash refunds at all, and that travellers who miss one leg of a flight are having multiple sectors voided, a practice outlawed in many countries.

Levey told ABC News that Choice had heard from Australian holidaymakers in Europe who had decided to get a train back to London instead of taking one of their pre-booked flight sectors and when they arrived at Heathrow, the rest of the journey had been cancelled. This was an “entirely unfair” way to deal with a contract, he said.

Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger and Virgin airlines have all rejected the claims made by Choice, insisting that they comply with Australia’s consumer law.

Qantas chief Alan Joyce went further, publishing a rejection of the claims.

This is Joyce’s statement:

Over the past couple of days, we’ve heard some pretty sensational claims from the lobby group Choice accusing airlines of breaching consumer law and treating customers unfairly. 

Those are serious allegations – so it’s worth putting some facts back in the story. 

As you’d expect, all of Qantas and Jetstar’s terms and conditions fully comply with Australian consumer law. 

They also reflect the realities of running an airline. 

Take our policy on refunds. We know that life can get in the way of the best-laid travel plans, so we do offer refunds in some circumstances. But common sense tells you that giving everyone the option to move between flights at will, for free, makes it hard to run an efficient airline. 

Few people wake up and suddenly decide to fly somewhere. The average lead times for buying a ticket range from three weeks through to six months. So, the prospect of us reselling a seat even a month in advance is harder than you might think. That’s why it costs to change bookings that aren’t fully flexible and why airlines can’t offer a refund to anyone who wants one. 

The rules that apply to every fare we sell are clearly shown when you book and our full terms and conditions can be read at any time. These rules are ultimately about serving our customers efficiently and giving them options about how much flexibility they need. Now, we realise these rules may not suit everyone all of the time, but they suit most of the 50 million people who travel with us each year. And they help keep the cost of travel down. 

Speaking of which, it’s a bit galling that Choice doesn’t look at the broader picture when it comes to the value offered by airlines. Air fares have dropped by around 40 per cent since 2003 – compare that to your household bills. And yet the product keeps getting better. We’re constantly improving our aircraft, the inflight entertainment, the food, our network of destinations. From next year, we’ll be offering free wi-fi. 

And let’s talk about reliability. In any given month, about 90 per cent of our flights are on time. In the US and the UK, the industry norm is as low as 70 per cent. 

Don’t get me wrong. We’re far from perfect. And things do go wrong, both inside and outside our control. But if you knew the amount of work that happens behind the scenes to get people to their destination safely when there are delays or cancellations, the last thing you would say is that we don’t care. 

In 2016, Australian travellers are getting a higher level of value, quality and reliability than ever before. Choice is doing them a disservice by twisting the facts to manufacture a crisis that doesn’t exist.

Written by Peter Needham

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