Qantas’s Disappointing Response to Downgrade Debacle Raises Frequent Flyer Ire

A couple of weeks ago I featured a thread on the Australian Frequent Flyer forums in which a couple had been involuntarily downgraded from business to economy on their flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. They were evidently offered the choice to fly next day in business, or they could fly same day in economy – that was the deal, take it or leave it.

Since I wrote that post, more information has come to light and the thread has grown to more than 800 posts. I of course encourage you to read the entire thread as it is utterly captivating, but in the interest of time management allow me to summarize the timeline of posts of the involved parties:

  • EmilyP – daughter of the displaced passengers
  • BNEFlyer – friend of EmilyP who is assisting her and her family in the matter
  • Red Roo – official forum representative for Qantas

Oct. 17: BNEFlyer initiated the discussion and EmilyP confirmed the issue. Red Roo replied that same day and noted that Qantas was working on the matter.

Oct. 18: BNEFlyer provided an update. The couple was now home. They were told that the flight was oversold in business. One flew in economy and the other received a business-class seat due to a no-show. Inflight staff seemed surprised that they were selected for the downgrade (the couple had paid for the business-class seats and hold Gold status with Qantas) – said non-status passengers flying on award tickets should have been downgraded before them.

Oct. 19: EmilyP confirmed BNEFlyer’s update:

They were told at check in their seats had been sold to someone else and they were being downgraded to economy with a ‘restitution’ of USD$700 each.

 

When faced with the hard questions i.e. ‘Why were our seats given to someone else?’, no explanation given.

Oct. 20: EmilyP’s mom calls Qantas customer care:

She was advised (exact quote) “Even though Qantas confirms your ticket, as per our terms and conditions you are not guaranteed a seat on an aircraft”.

 

The ‘compensation’ offered to my parents was, in their opinion, not good enough. This included some QFF points and a voucher for a future flight. After being loyal to QF for many years, at this stage even the offer of a ‘free’ flight is not enough to get them back onto a QF aircraft. My parents are still considering their options regarding acceptance of the compensation.

In response to EmilyP’s update, Red Roo replies:

…our Customer Care team have since contacted her parents to personally discuss the circumstances, and have offered them a gesture of goodwill over and above our guidelines in recognition of the downgrade and overall unhappy experience.

 

As some have pointed out, overbooking flights is not exclusive to Qantas. Operational changes such as aircraft types and rolling delays can also play a part in such situations. Our estimates for cancellations and ‘no shows’ are occasionally lower than expected, which is what happened on this occasion. I fully appreciate that we’ve let Mr and Mrs EmilyP down, especially in the way this situation was handled.

 

For your reference, Mr and Mrs EmilyP were offered alternatives, including the option to overnight at our expense in LAX with confirmed Business seats on QF16 the next day. As this was not an option for them, the ground team confirmed the only available seats.

But BNEFlyer finds Red Roo’s explanation wanting in many respects:

Was the option to fly on QF12/94 in Business offered? And were there no W seats available?

 

I’m also wondering why status pax in Business Class weren’t asked to volunteer to downgrade or fly the next day, rather why they were told that’s what was going to happen?

 

There seems to by no rhyme or reason as to who QF decides gets offloaded or downgraded. Or that QF gives any consideration to their customers needs (if you want to fly on the day you booked and there’s no other option, too bad. Take what you’re given and be happy with it).

As does EmilyP:

Unfortunately the ‘gesture of goodwill’ statement in itself is a bit insulting. QF should have provided what my parents paid for.

 

Could you also advise why:

 

* My parents were not asked to downgrade, but told? This seems in direct conflict with your ‘procedures’. QF loves their procedures when it suits them, but don’t seem too concerned with following them when required.

 

As previously stated on this thread, I’m aware that this situation happens only occasionally. Unfortunately though it DID happen and the entire situation was handled (and continues to be handled) appallingly.

 

Qantas have been so dismissive over this whole thing. I just cannot believe they would treat customers this way. Especially loyal customers.

 

I’m going to step away from the computer now, because your response has made me mad. It seems QF are more interested in stating why they were right in this situation.

 

Oh and FYI – my parents have yet to receive a FULL and HONEST explanation from Customer Care as to what exactly happened.

And in a follow-up post addressing questions from other AFF members, EmilyP details the exact compensation offered to her parents:

A $500 Qantas flight voucher that is valid for only 12 months
* 50,000 FF points
* The FF points he would have earned on Business rather than Economy
* The difference in fare between Business and Economy HOWEVER he was advised (exact quote) “It will not be as much as you expect”

Oct. 22: BNEFlyer posts an update from EmilyP’s parents:

I have an update from EmilyP’s parents… Flight Centre have submitted the refund calculation request to Qantas and they have been advised that it will be 2-3 weeks before they have any word from Qantas about a) if they will get a refund, and b) how much it will be if they are entitled to one. EmilyP’s parents did ask QF directly if they could handle this and they said no, the request had to come from Flight Centre.

 

To inconvenience two passengers, let alone SG and J class pax and then make them do all the work to find out if they’re entitled to any form of reasonable compensation and then also make them wait what will be up to 4 weeks for a result is completely unacceptable behaviour by Qantas IMO.

 

This information, combined with previous responses to this thread from RedRoo (who has been quite silent lately) just shows that with Qantas it’s put up and shut up. What they say goes and if you want to question that, it’ll be at your own peril.

Oct. 28: Red Roo returns to the conversation to attempt to address several of the concerns/questions that have been raised:

We’ve immediately and personally apologised to the customers about the handling of this matter at Los Angeles, including the communication style regarding lounge access and compensation offered on the spot.

 

Our internal guidelines are beyond the minimum IATA requirements to allow individual, overall experiences to be considered by way of discretionary goodwill gestures.

 

The goodwill offered by Customer Care on this occasion was in addition to any fare differential offered by the agent, and the cash payment received at Los Angeles airport at the time.

 

Our yield management team is recognised as one of the best in the industry, however they don’t always get it right due to various operational reasons. A call out was made earlier in the day looking for volunteers to either downgrade or travel on the following day with the same offer of compensation.

 

However our team were unsuccessful in finding customers to reconsider their plans, and while not ideal, the last resort is to rely on no-shos and customer’s last to check in (including online check-in) to make the final decision.

 

I can assure you that there were no Qantas employees onloaded in Business or Premium Economy on QF16 LAX/BNE 16OCT, on either Duty or Leisure Travel categories.

Oct. 29: Red Roo addresses questions raised by his/her Oct. 28 post:

Tier status was not a factor in the outcome, nor was the value of the original fare purchased. While these aspects were referenced in post #1 and have been included in the ongoing conversation, I’ll leave it to BNEFlyer and/or EmilyP to disclose the customer’s tier status and fare details should it be of interest to you.

 

To clarify, “the outcome” is in reference to the goodwill discussed with Customer Care. Tier status would have been considered in the early stages, and as per our internal procedures and guidelines for managing such situations (e.g. during the initial call out period etc…).

 

Disruptions of this nature are often the last resort for any airline, with tier status, extenuating circumstances and seat availability amongst the many operational factors taken in to account when making alternative arrangements.

 

Given the high interest in this thread, I can understand the need for some to analyse and interpret my posts. I can personally and truthfully assure you that each case is reviewed independently, using our guidelines as a benchmark to ensure some consistency.

And that is essentially where we currently stand with this thread. Obviously, the still very large and looming question is: Why were these particular passengers denied their seats? What, specifically, is the algorithm for determining in which order passengers in a overbooked business-class situation are denied their seats?

The onus seems to be on Qantas to prove that older passengers aren’t being selected by the gate agents simply because they are easy marks who probably won’t fight back too much. As is so often the case in politics, this might prove to be a case where the initial act doesn’t hurt the company as much as the reaction and cover-up.

Continue to follow this enthralling thread in its entirety: Downgraded from Business Class.

Dark Spirit” by Michael Coghlan. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Comments

  1. while it’s a nightmarish situation, it looks like they were actually offered a lot. If I understand correctly:
    $700 in cash; $500 voucher; 50k miles; the extra miles they would have earned in business vs economy; (of course they also got the miles for flying economy); AND the fare difference!
    That’s quite a lot of money and I would take it! I think they’re probably mad because they haven’t gotten a sincere apology! Then again, I’ve never received any actual apologies (always only responses that read something like “we’re sorry you’re mad, we did everything right, but we’ll give you xxx to make up for this”

  2. ^ Except for the fact that the “fare difference” sounds like it would be the difference between what they paid and the highest coach/Y fare, not the least expensive coach fare that the couple could have secured when initially booking their tickets. At least based on what they were apparently told by QF: “It’s not as much as you would expect.”

  3. augias and Josha, I think you have both hit on two of the elements that are at issue here:

    1. The passengers want a sincere apology (and they aren’t likely to get one)
    2. How is the fare differential calculated? (seems like Qantas wants to provide the difference between what was paid for business and what a passenger walking up to purchase a same-day, full-fare Y ticket would pay)

    The other important issue here IMO, and one that hasn’t been sussed out at all yet is; In an oversold business-class situation, how does Qantas determine which passenger(s) should be involuntarily denied their purchased business-class seats? (as far as I can tell, Qantas hasn’t addressed this question at all, and several Qantas flyers have offered anecdotal evidence that would suggest there is possibly an unwritten policy to deny seats to those who are least likely to fight back).

  4. I’m sure selecting who gets bumped by who would be least likely to push back exist in all airline. My family was on a first class seats on United 767 from HNL to IAD on award ticket. Couple in row 5 had problem with the lie-flat seats not going down by the button. After mechanics couldn’t fix it, and past our departure time and the couple were adamant and demanding that it needs to be fixed.

    So the gate agent came on board and asked my wife and son (i was in the middle single seat) if they wouldn’t mind switching seats for a $1000 united voucher and bottle of wine. The seat wasn’t completely broken, it went down manually, just not with a switch, so being an overnight direct flight, my wife had dinner, then they made the bed, she slept, got up, they made her bed in to a seat, breakfast, then we landed. No problem.. plus $1000 richer.

    Now, the question is why did they ask us? Because they saw the list of people on the manifest and knew we flew on an award ticket with no status with United and were the prime candidate to take the voucher. Least likely to resist or most likely to take the offer.
    I’m sure it happens with every airline and that’s what happened with Qantas in this case.

  5. My reading of the QF rep indicates that the couple were the last J passengers to check in and thus they were “targeted” on that basis, which is generally how airlines approach downgrading. It was also stated that QF attempted to contact a number of other passengers in that cabin (elites?) who refused to voluntarily change their plans. It was also suggested by one of the couple’s allies that QF should have asked its elites — which it appears did take place — but in my mind these should be the last people asked. Nor do we know what the fare class of the couple was. Could it have been a discounted business fare versus everyone else flying on a higher fare? Finally, we’ve not been told why they could not fly the next day. Based on what’s been summarized here, I can’t really fault QF. Nor do I see anything wrong with an airline not wanting to off-load its best customers and opting for less frequent customers. (Suppose I should read the original Aussie thread and perhaps can be convinced otherwise.

  6. @DavidB – in my attempt to summarize I left out some of the details that you address. According to EmilyP, her parents were among the first to check-in and they were unable to accept the offer of a next day flight because her father had “specialist appointments” scheduled the next day. Of course, that’s only one side of the story.

  7. Hi All,

    Wow never thought my parents’ debacle would raise so much attention!

    I wish it had never come to this, but I will continue to update on the original thread with updates as they occur.

    At this point we are waiting to hear from Flight Centre as to the fare refund $$ offered by QF.

    Cheers,
    Emily

  8. @EmilyP – I think all of us as travelers are disheartened at the very least to hear about the situation your parents found themselves in. Sincerely hope a just resolution is achieved, and thank you for continuing to provide updates.

  9. My husband and I are the passengers in question. Many thanks to our daughter Emily for continuing the fight on our behalf. Just a few points to clarify the debacle:
    – we were not late checking in. Tried to checkin online much earlier in the day but did not succeed because it was an international flight.
    – were not contacted at all even though Qantas had our phone numbers.
    – The only explanation given to us by the LAX contractor was “you don’t exist in our system” despite our confirmed flights and allocated seats.
    – if we had decided to fly the next day we were not guaranteed a business class seat, and we were told that our luggage would have to remain at the airport. I guess they thought we’d wear the clothes we were wearing again the next day.
    – yes we received some cash but were told it was nothing to do with Qantas, it was an “inconvenience fee”.
    – we received FF points and a voucher from Qantas, but as our trust in them has disintegrated, these are worthless.
    – we paid $3,750 for that LAX to Brisbane business class seat – is there anyone out there that would accept approximately $1,120 as a refund? We did have seats on the flight back but absolutely not voluntarily, we had no choice in the matter. If we purchased return flights, did Qantas think we’d walk home after they sold our seats?

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