A 78-year-old Qantas passenger was kicked out of business class and his seat next to his wife given to a pilot for the route from Melbourne to Adelaide.
Only 30 minutes before Stephen Jones and his wife were due to fly out on their final leg to Adelaide, after travelling from New Zealand, he got an unexpected call to go to the Qantas desk.
There he was told by an employee on Sunday he was being "bumped" to economy as they had a "tech" flying to Adelaide and his contract states he must fly business class.
Qantas has confirmed to Yahoo News a pilot needed the seat.
"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," a Qantas spokesperson said. "As the business cabin was full, unfortunately this meant that Mr Jones was downgraded to economy."
Mr Jones was quite put out and his wife had to endure an awkward flight home.
"He wouldn't look at her," Mr Jones told 3AW. After writing a complaint letter to Qantas that night he received a response offering him 5000 Qantas points as a goodwill gesture. An irritated Mr Jones declined the offer and instead told the airline, "I don't think anything's going to change until there are ramifications for Qantas when they upset their customers".
How can Qantas and other airlines do this?
The reason airlines are able to do this is by "overprescrib[ing] business class or first class," according to Partner at Henderson Ball Lawyers, Justin Lawrence.
“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, they call it ‘involuntary downgrading,’” he told 3AW.
“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. Mr Lawrence also stated this is more likely to happen to customers that are frequent flyers or pay in cash.
The practice of overbooking is also observed in economy class and is "super common", with Matt Graham, editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, confirming its a way for the airline to "protect [their] revenue".
Qantas apologises, offers passenger compensation
As a result of complaining about the experience, the passenger was offered compensation by Qantas.
"We understand this was a negative experience and have contacted Mr Jones to apologise and explain why the downgrade was necessary," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
"Mr Jones has been provided a partial refund, flight credit and frequent flyer points."
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