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Qantas sends business class passenger to economy to accommodate off-duty pilot

A man who had purchased a business class ticket on a Qantas Airways flight from Melbourne to Adelaide was made to fly on an economy class seat instead.

Mr Stephen Jones, 78, was bumped off from his business class seat to an economy class seat on Sunday to accommodate an off-duty pilot, according to news reports.

The elderly Vietnam War veteran and his wife were travelling back to their home in Adelaide, Australia after a holiday in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The couple had a stopover in Melbourne before the final leg of their journey to Adelaide.

Mr Jones was called to the Qantas desk, while the couple was enjoying their cup of coffee at the airline’s lounge in Melbourne’s airport.

“I went up to the desk and the lady… said, ‘I’ve got some bad news for you. You’ve been bumped,” said Mr Jones during an interview with Australian radio station 3AW on Tuesday.

“I didn’t register at first. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. I said ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Yes. I’ve to re-issue your ticket for economy class. We have a tech who’s flying to Adelaide and his contract states that he must fly business class.’”

The seat was later revealed to have been given to a Qantas pilot, who had to be in Adelaide for a flight, reported Sky News Australia on Tuesday.

Mr Jones moved to a seat in economy class, while his wife remained in the business class seat next to the pilot, said the report, adding that there was no communication between the woman and the pilot.

The pilot did not look at his wife either, said Mr Jones.

When he reached Adelaide, Mr Jones penned a complaint letter to Qantas. The airline later replied to Mr Jones and offered him 5,000 Qantas points as a “goodwill gesture”.

“I said ‘Look, thanks for your very, very generous offer, but I don’t really think I can take it, I’d be a hypocrite’”, said Mr Jones.

“I don’t think anything’s going to change until there’s ramifications for Qantas or costs for Qantas when they upset their customers.”

In a statement to Sky News Australia, the airline said that one of its pilots needed to travel from Melbourne to Adelaide on Sunday morning.

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“As part of their enterprise agreement, pilots that are flying to another city to then operate flights are to be provided with a seat in business,” said the airline, adding that the business class cabin was full for the flight in question.

“We’ve apologised to the customer and explained why the downgrade was necessary. When this happens, we provide customers with a partial refund,” Qantas said.

According to reports, after Mr Jones’ case was mentioned on radio he received a call from Qantas, with the airline promising to refund half his business class ticket for the Melbourne to Adelaide flight.

Qantas has been under scrutiny recently.

On Tuesday, Mr Alan Joyce abruptly stepped down from his role as chief executive of the airline. He was initially supposed to hand over his role to Ms Vanessa Hudson, the airline’s chief financial officer, in November.

But on Wednesday, Ms Hudson succeeded him in the role, and is now the airline’s first female boss.

Just last week, Australia’s competition regulator sued Qantas for allegedly selling tickets to thousands of flights after they were cancelled in 2022.

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