In what could be a landmark case for consumer rights in Australia, Qantas Airways Ltd. finds itself in the crosshairs of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). The regulator is seeking an unprecedented penalty of over A$250 million ($162 million) from the airline for allegedly selling seats on thousands of cancelled flights. This lawsuit is set to test the ACCC’s toughened stance against breaches of consumer law, potentially sending a strong warning to corporations about the consequences of misleading and mistreating consumers.
The ACCC, Australia’s primary antitrust enforcer, initiated Federal Court proceedings against Qantas on Thursday, accusing the airline of continuing to sell tickets on more than 8,000 services last year that it had already cancelled. The regulator claims that after flights were pulled, Qantas continued selling seats for an average of more than two weeks, and in some instances, longer than a month. Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Chair of the ACCC, has stated that the envisioned record-breaking penalty is intended to serve as a deterrent, rather than just a cost of doing business.
Qantas Airways Facing Record $162 Million Lawsuit for Alleged Consumer Law Breaches
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australia’s primary antitrust regulator, has initiated a lawsuit against Qantas Airways Ltd. for allegedly selling seats on over 8,000 cancelled flights. The regulator is seeking a record penalty of more than A$250 million ($162 million), making this a test case for the ACCC’s hardened stance against violations of consumer law.
A Potential Record Penalty for Consumer Law Breaches
Gina Cass-Gottlieb, chair of the ACCC, stated in a radio interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that companies in Australia generally aren’t afraid of breaking the law. She proposed that penalties for misleading and mistreating consumers should be large enough to act as a deterrent, stretching to several hundred million dollars instead of tens of millions. She highlighted that the proposed fine should not just be a cost of doing business but a sufficient deterrent against misconduct.
Qantas Airways’ Alleged Unfair Practices
The ACCC has accused Qantas Airways of continuing to sell tickets on flights it had already cancelled, with the airline having sold seats on average for more than two weeks, and sometimes longer than a month, after flights were scrapped. If proven, a fine of A$250 million would equate to about 10% of Qantas’ record-breaking annual profit for the 12 months ended June.
A Crucial Test for the ACCC
The current record for a consumer law breach in Australia stands at A$125 million against Volkswagen AG. The regulator aims for Qantas to pay more than double this figure if the case is proven, indicating a significant shift in enforcing consumer law breaches. This lawsuit, according to Cass-Gottlieb, will be an important test for the ACCC in its mission to substantially increase penalties for large corporations that fail consumers.
The Aftermath and the Future
Following the ACCC’s disclosure of its claims, Qantas said it would examine the allegations and respond in court. Shares in Qantas were down 0.9% as of 11:07 a.m. in Sydney, marking a second day of declines.
The ACCC’s lawsuit against Qantas Airways not only signals a significant step in enforcing consumer law breaches but also serves as a stark reminder to corporations regarding the consequences of failing customers. The outcome of this case could set a precedent for future penalties and further deter corporations from engaging in misconduct.
This lawsuit is a clear signal that regulators are willing to take a tougher stance on consumer law breaches. It underscores the importance of businesses maintaining ethical practices and treating consumers fairly. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for Australia’s corporate sector, possibly leading to stricter regulations and higher penalties for consumer law violations. Corporations should now, more than ever, prioritize compliance and customer satisfaction to avoid hefty penalties and reputational damage.