An elderly Vietnam veteran from Adelaide, Stephen Jones, 78, had his paid Qantas Airline business class seat changed on a flight from Melbourne to Adelaide. While he and his wife were in the Qantas lounge awaiting their journey home from Christchurch, they were informed of the change just 30 minutes before departure. The adjustment was made to accommodate a pilot traveling to Adelaide for an upcoming flight under an enterprise agreement that mandates pilots fly business class.
During an interview with Melbourne’s 3AW radio station, Mr. Jones stated that after voicing his displeasure, he was presented with an apology and an offer of 5,000 Frequent Flyer points. He noted that the pilot, who sat beside his wife, did not engage with her during the flight. As a Vietnam combat unit veteran from the 1960s, Mr. Jones expressed his disappointment, stating he declined the points offer, believing that Qantas should face consequences for such actions to ensure change.
Qantas acknowledged the agreement requiring pilots to fly business class and indicated there was a possibility of an Adelaide flight cancellation had the pilot not reached the destination. They confirmed their apology to Mr. Jones and stated that other compensations, including a partial refund, were proposed.
Legal expert Justin Lawrence from Henderson Ball Lawyers highlighted on 3AW that such actions by airlines are not uncommon. He referred to it as ‘involuntary downgrading,’ where airlines might overbook certain seat classes and then must move passengers at the last minute. He clarified that while in Europe, there’s a mandate for compensation in such scenarios, Australian laws do not have a similar provision.
Concluding, Mr. Jones recognized the need for pilots to travel comfortably but felt that the entire incident left him feeling uneasy and slightly frustrated.
Mr. Lawrence mentioned that airlines often notify passengers about a ‘discretionary decision’ to downgrade their seats only 20 to 30 minutes before departure. For those not keen on accepting this change, he has a recommendation.
“Refuse that particular flight segment,” advised Mr. Lawrence.
He suggests passengers should wait for the next available business or first-class flight. Mr. Lawrence emphasized, “The moment you accept the downgraded seat, your potential for compensation diminishes significantly.”