An elderly Vietnam veteran from Adelaide, Australia was downgraded from his paid Qantas business class seat on Sunday so a young pilot could travel in luxury to the South Australian capital.
Stephen Jones, 78, and his wife were in the Qantas lounge enjoying a coffee on their way home from a holiday in Christchurch on Sunday when they got the news – just 30 minutes before the final Melbourne to Adelaide leg took off.
The reason was that a pilot needed to get to Adelaide for a flight and could only do business class as per an enterprise agreement.
Speaking to Melbourne’s “3AW,” Mr Jones said he was offered 5000 Frequent Flyer points and an apology after a letter of complaint.
He claimed that the pilot who took his seat next to his wife “wouldn’t look at her.”
Mr. Jones, who served in Vietnam in a combat unit in the 1960s, claimed he turned down the offer of 5000 points because “I don’t think anything is going to change until there are ramifications for Qantas, or costs for Qantas when they upset their customers”.
According to Qantas, the pilot was under an enterprise agreement stipulating they must fly business class.
News.com.au understands a flight from Adelaide may have been canceled if they could not make it there.
Qantas confirmed it has apologized to Mr. Jones, and offers, including a partial refund, were made available.
Justin Lawrence, a partner at Henderson Ball lawyers, later told 3AW there was little customers can do about such a move by the airline and said it was “standard operating procedure.”
“Unfortunately, their terms of carriage allow them to do this sort of thing – this happens so often they’ve actually got a term for it, buckle up, they call this ‘involuntary downgrading,’” he said.
“They’ll overprescribe business class or first class, they will need to bump someone out, and they’ll do it almost immediately prior to the flight – not just Qantas, they all do it.
“Any time you go to a travel agent or online to Qantas to buy a seat, and we think we’re buying a seat in a particular class, there are no guarantees that when that plane takes off, you’ll be sitting in that class.”
Mr. Lawrence said in Europe, there is mandated compensation for such a downgrade, but that is not the case in Australia.
Mr. Jones said he understood that pilots were entitled to rest comfortably on their way to another flight, but the ordeal was “unsettling and made me a little irritable.”