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Airfare prices: Flight Centre boss Graham Turner slams Qatar Airways decision


Australia’s biggest travel agent has blamed a government decision to block more flights into Australia for the cost of air travel.

Flight Centre has launched an advertising campaign against the Commonwealth’s move to block Qatar Airways from adding more flights into Australia.

The federal government said its decision to block the airline from adding 21 weekly flights into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane was in the “national interest” as the new flights may threaten Qantas’ viability.

According to the government, reduced airfares could impact Australia’s national carrier in the medium to long term.

This financial year, Qantas posted its first profitable result since FY2019, reporting a record-breaking $2.47bn in underlying profit.

Flight Centre boss Graham Turner said it was “pretty obvious” Australian airlines don’t have the capacity to meet demand, leading to expensive airfares for everyday Aussies and tourists coming into the country.

“We think the capacity is at about 75 per cent internationally and obviously the demand is enormous and airfares are too expensive,” he told Weekend Today.

“A lot of people can‘t afford those sorts of airfare prices. There are some good specials around but on average they are about 40 or 50 per cent more expensive than pre-Covid and this is important to Australia.”

The travel agent has begun rolling out advertisements urging the government to let the Qatar flights in.

“This decision just doesn‘t stack up, there’s no logic to it,” Graham said.

The consumer watchdog has also weight in on the debate, with the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) head Gina Cass-Gottlieb saying she would have “welcomed” Qatar’s expansion and that it would have reduced prices.

Ms Cass-Gottlieb told ABC radio it was difficult to pin down exactly how much airfares would have gone down, but referred to Virgin Australia’s estimate of a 40 per cent cut.

The ACCC announced last week that it would pursue Qantas in court over “ghost flights” it allegedly sold to customers when it had already cancelled them in its system.

The consumer watchdog alleges that Qantas kept selling tickets for more than 8000 flights set to depart between May and July 2022, with the airline advertising seats for an average of more than two weeks despite knowing it had cancelled them.

“The ACCC has conducted a detailed investigation into Qantas’ flight cancellation practices. As a result, we have commenced these proceedings alleging that Qantas continued selling tickets for thousands of cancelled flights, likely affecting the travel plans of tens of thousands of people,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“We allege that Qantas’ conduct in continuing to sell tickets to cancelled flights, and not updating ticketholders about cancelled flights, left customers with less time to make alternative arrangements and may have led to them paying higher prices to fly at a particular time not knowing that flight had already been cancelled.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.