Qantas has conceded its reputation had already been “hit hard on several fronts” before the consumer watchdog launched legal action and that “it will take time to repair” its standing in the eyes of Australians.
In a lengthy statement on Monday, Qantas said it was still reviewing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s allegations the airline had sold tickets for more than 8,000 flights that were already cancelled in its system.
Qantas said it “will have more to say” after reviewing the case but said “understandably, these allegations have caused significant concern among our customers, our people and the general community”.
“The ACCC’s allegations come at a time when Qantas’ reputation has already been hit hard on several fronts,” Qantas said.
“We want the community to know that we hear and understand their disappointment. We know that the only way to fix it is by delivering consistently. We know it will take time to repair. And we are absolutely determined to do that.”
Qantas said the period of time the ACCC investigated in mid-2022 was one of well-publicised upheaval and uncertainty across the aviation industry, as the airline struggled to restart post-Covid.
“We openly acknowledge that our service standards fell well short and we sincerely apologise.”
The ACCC accused Qantas of engaging in false, misleading or deceptive conduct and has said it wants the airline to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties if found guilty.
Rex deputy chair accuses Qantas of ‘bullying’
Earlier on Monday, the deputy chairman of Rex Airlines accused Qantas of acting like a “bully” towards smaller aviation players and questioned the pay packet of its outgoing chief executive, Alan Joyce.
John Sharp, a former federal transport minister in the Howard government, also called on the Albanese government to reverse its decision to block Qatar Airways from doubling its capacity into Australia, amid questions about the influence of Qantas’s lobbying.
“I think it’s appropriate if they were to reverse the decision on Qatar flights, noting they [Qatar] repatriated more Australians stranded overseas during the Covid pandemic than Qantas did,” Sharp told ABC radio.
“They’ve proven themselves to be a good citizen.”
Sharp said international air fares out of Australia remained about 50% above pre-pandemic levels.
“We’ve got a shortage of seats [for international services] at the present time, and Qatar’s additional flights would help alleviate that problem, and we’d also see as a result of it air fares coming down because more competition, more seats, results in lower prices,” he said.
Queensland’s deputy premier, Steven Miles, on Monday said he would welcome additional Qatar flights to the state.
Sharp also accused Qantas of acting like a “bully” when exercising its market dominance – it operates about 65% of domestic aviation together with budget carrier Jetstar – over smaller airlines such as Rex.
“Rex’s relationship with a company like Qantas is a bit like an ant dancing with an elephant. You’ve only got to make one misstep and you’re squashed.”
Sharp alleged that after Rex decided in 2021 to fly jets between capital city routes to compete with Qantas and Virgin, the former began “dumping capacity in an anti-competitive way” on smaller regional routes where Rex was previously the only operator.
“Immediately when they moved into Broken Hill, we lost money on it and continue to do so. And of course, Qantas lost money too, but it’s a ripple in the pond for them whereas it’s a big wave for us,” Sharp said, adding the same thing happened on services to Mount Gambier, Kangaroo Island and Merimbula.
“They’ve moved into a number of routes in order to try and punish us for going into the domestic airline business to try and undermine our finances so that we’re weak and therefore can’t compete.”
Qantas also has a reputation for being a tough negotiator over airport fees for landing rights, and the airline’s high cancellation rates – which some allege are strategic – have become a growing source of anger.
“They play real hardball, they truly use their market power in a way that airports can’t, to get the result they want and flatten their costs,” claimed one source, who requested anonymity.
Sharp said Rex had complained to the ACCC about alleging anti-competitive behaviour but the watchdog had not pursued the matter.
Qantas has previously said Rex’s claim about it dumping capacity “never had any substance”. “What Rex calls ‘predatory behaviour’ is actually competition which provides these regional communities with choice,” QantasLink’s chief executive, John Gissing, said last year.
Sharp said he was optimistic the legal action announced by the ACCC late last week against Qantas would “reveal a lot of information” through court hearings. “I think off the back of that there’s going to be a lot of practices that are seen as anti-competitive,” Sharp said.