Qantas Airways’ long-serving CEO Alan Joyce would exit the Australian flagship carrier two months earlier than previously as reputational turbulence has now engulfed the airline.
Alan Joyce’s early retirement will see CEO Designate Vanessa Hudson, the first woman to lead the century-old airline, take charge on September first week.
The airline also said newly appointed Chief Financial Officer Rob Marcolina will also start early alongside Hudson.
The accelerated departure comes amid Qantas apologizing for its service standards ‘falling short’ and acknowledging suffering reputational damage, less than two weeks after it reported record annual earnings underpinned by strong travel demand.
Qantas has been sued by Australia’s competition regulator for allegedly selling tickets for more than 8,000 cancelled flights between May and July 2022 without disclosing they had been cancelled.
The airline had also faced scrutiny over a decision to let nearly 500 million Australian dollars (USD 323.00 million) of COVID-era flight credits expire by the 2023 end, which it reversed shortly after the regulator filed its lawsuit.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) highlighted in the lawsuit that Qantas ticket sales for those cancelled flights went on for 16 days, apart from pointing out that “the cancellations were for reasons which were under the control of the airlines”.
Because of Qantas’s actions, customers were reportedly left with less time to make alternative bookings and may have paid higher prices to fly at a particular time, ACCC stated.
A report by the Associated Press said that in one case, Qantas sold 21 tickets for a July 29, 2022; service from Sydney to San Francisco up to 40 days after that flight was cancelled.
In its statement, the airline said that it was reviewing the ACCC’s allegations, apart from noting that the period of time referred by the ACCC was the period when the aviation industry was going through a period of “upheaval and uncertainty” which was “well-publicised”.
Qantas also talked about offering an alternative flight to customers when the original flight they were supposed to be on is cancelled, close to the original departure time, or a refund.
“The ACCC’s allegations come at a time when Qantas’ reputation has already been hit hard on several fronts. We want the community to know that we hear and understand their disappointment,” Qantas said.
Qantas also received complaints of flight cancellations and lost luggage mostly due to staff shortages when Australia opened its borders in late 2021 after the COVID pandemic.
A few other controversies involving Qantas are the granting of a premium airport lounge membership to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s son and its opposition to Qatar Airways adding additional flights to Australia.
Due to all these, the airline’s share price has also taken a battering, falling 13% since the start of August 2023 amid questions over whether the flagship carrier had maximized profits at the expense of its longer-term reputation with customers.
“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,” said Alan Joyce, who served as the airline’s CEO for 15 years.
Chairman Richard Goyder said the executive transition came at a “challenging time” for the airline and its staff.
“We have an important job to do in restoring the public’s confidence in the kind of company we are, and that’s what the board is focused on, and what the management under Vanessa’s leadership will do,” Goyder said in a statement.
Qantas announced a raft of leadership changes in June 2023, with an aim of increasing focus on key areas as the airline completed its post-COVID recovery.