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COVID-19: Qatar Airways – off to the ACCC with you!

COVID-19: Qatar Airways – off to the ACCC with you!

Qatar and Emirates airlines have been accused of cancelling long-standing economy tickets in favour of new Business and First Class bookings heading to Australian destinations.


As a way of reducing the strain on the compulsory hotel quarantine process for overseas arrivals during the lockdown of Victoria, arrivals into Australia have been limited to a maximum of 4,000 per week by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Most Australian states have imposed strict, very low limits on arrival numbers, forcing some carriers to only arrive with as few as 30 passengers per flight:

  • Adelaide – 500/week or 70/day
  • Brisbane – 500/week or 70/day
  • Canberra – to be negotiated for each flight
  • Darwin – to be negotiated for each flight
  • Hobart – no international flights
  • Melbourne – 0 – international arrivals prohibited currently
  • Perth – 75/day or 525/week
  • Sydney – 350/day

You can see straight up that these limits make break-even flying very difficult. I can see why Akbar Al Bakar wants to limit numbers to premium-paying passengers.

a screenshot of a website
Business class prices listed today (13 August 2020) on Google Flights for London to Sydney via Doha one-way

If you think those are steep, look at the cost of Economy, same route, same day:

a screenshot of a website
Economy class prices listed today (13 August 2020) on Google Flights for London to Sydney via Doha one-way

Yes, you are correct, that last flight is in Business.

a seat with a white pillow and a white pillow on the side
Qatar Business Class, 787


The Guardian online newspaper (Australian Edition) is reporting that some Australian families stranded overseas, trying to come home, have had their tickets cancelled and/or rescheduled by Qatar Airways to enable Business Class passengers to fly.

One passenger purportedly has a recording of a Qatar employee saying that ‘priority is for business-class passengers’ for flights between Doha and Australia, in the light of the arrival capacity limitations.

As well as Qatar, complaints have also named Emirates.

Consumer watchdog on the case

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), our national consumer watchdog is looking into the complaints. It has limited powers in these circumstances, as what consumer protections are offered depends on the method of booking. It’s my understanding that the ACCC can only address the consumer protections for bookings made using Australian versions of the airlines or aggregators booking websites.

a row of seats in an airplane
Emirates Business Class

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

With stories of distressed Australian citizens trying to return from places like Lebanon at the moment, this could become an issue that Australian politicians won’t be able to ignore. They will need to do more than Michael McCormack, our infrastructure and transport minister has done so far, which is to tell affected passengers to contact their airline or travel agent!

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