The boss of Australian airline Qantas said Tuesday he would leave his job immediately — two months earlier than planned — following a series of embarrassing revelations about the company, including allegations it sold tickets for flights that had already been canceled. Chief Executive Alan Joyce said that after 15 years running the national carrier he was bringing forward his planned retirement date. The airline said Vanessa Hudson would take over as managing director and group chief executive from Wednesday. The announcement came after a difficult few weeks for Qantas and Joyce.
He was grilled by Australian senators last week on flight delays and costs, while a consumer watchdog group announced Thursday it was taking legal action against Qantas and would seek a penalty that would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission said it was taking the action after Qantas “engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct by advertising tickets for more than 8,000 flights that it had already canceled but not removed from sale.”
The commission said that in many cases, Qantas continued selling tickets or delayed telling ticketholders the flights had been canceled. That often led customers to have less time to make alternative arrangements and to potentially pay higher prices for new flights, the commission said. Qantas previously acknowledged its standards had fallen well short of expectations as the airline emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joyce said there was a lot he was proud about during his 22 years working for Qantas. “In the last few weeks, the focus on Qantas and events of the past make it clear to me that the company needs to move ahead with its renewal as a priority,” he said in his statement. “The best thing I can do under these circumstances is to bring forward my retirement and hand over to Vanessa and the new management team now, knowing they will do an excellent job.”
Last month Qantas announced a record pre-tax annual profit of nearly 2.5 billion Australian dollars ($1.6 billion), up from a loss of almost AU$2 billion the previous year. The airline has since come under pressure to pay back the AU$2.7 billion it received from the Australian government during the coronavirus pandemic. Qantas Chairman Richard Goyder said the board thanked Joyce for his leadership.
“Alan has always had the best interests of Qantas front and center, and today shows that,” Goyder said. Shareholders will formally vote on the appointment of Hudson as managing director at the company’s annual general meeting in November. Qantas shares rose about 1% after the announcement but remained down more than 11% from a month ago.