Angry Flight Centre clients weighing up class action
There's an easy way to gauge how much ill will Flight Centre has spawned in the way it's handled the delicate matter of speedy refunds and big cancellation fees.
Just look at how many irate customers have flocked to multiple Facebook pages set up to demand the nation's biggest travel agency group lift its game.
One of the biggest groups, called Flight Centre Class Action Australia, only launched April 18 and it already has nearly 5000 members. Almost 3500 joined just in the last week.
It's not clear how much they are collectively owed but one source told us that about 880 participants alone are chasing around $7.4 million.
No prizes for guessing that the group is actively exploring potential legal action against the Brisbane-based company, headed by Rich Lister Graham "Skroo'' Turner.
Group co-founder Eran Ben-Avraham, who rather ironically is a former Flight Centre employee himself, told City Beat yesterday that he is in the midst of talks with several big litigation firms keen to take up the fight.
Flight Centre spokesman Haydn Long maintains the company is not concerned with the threat. "We're comfortable with our legal position,'' he said.
WAITING FOR A REFUND
No matter how strong that position, there can be little doubt that the company has badly fumbled its response to the virus-driven collapse of the travel market.
Facing a barrage of criticism, Flight Centre buckled last week and lowered its "cancellation processing fee'' from $300 per passenger for international bookings to a flat, capped rate of $600 for two or more customers.
Similarly, domestic travel cancellation fees have been capped at $100 per booking rather than $50 per person.
But clients also complain that they are facing waits of up to three months to recoup airfares, many of which have already been paid back to Flight Centre.
Adding to their unease are fears that the money has not been set aside in a trust, meaning it would almost certainly go up in smoke if the company collapses.
Brisbane resident Robert MacIntyre told your diarist that he and his partner shelled out about $4000 for return flights to the UK and insurance eight months ago. They were due to leave March 20 but the travel ban kicked in just a few days before that date.
Last week he was informed in writing that Emirates had refunded the airfares in full to Flight Centre. The next day Flight Centre told him that he would still have to wait as long as 12 weeks to get the money back.
"Give me one LEGAL reason why you state a claim to our money for 12 weeks. No excuses or platitudes just a single LEGAL reason,'' he wrote in a letter to the company this week.
"It is of interest to note that we booked and paid for accommodation, car hire, bus trips, and flights ourselves within the UK. Those companies have now refunded all moneys paid.''
Beyond the financial distress, there's emotional pain for MacIntyre, a 61-year-old former salesman and aspiring social worker who is part of the Facebook group gunning for a class action.
He hoped to attend a wedding in the UK and to visit with his elderly mum. Unable to hold back the tears, he said she passed away in mid-January so he missed her funeral.
CRASH AND BURN
Speaking of aviation-related matters, it looks like Brisbane-based corporate charter service Compass Jet might crash and burn.
A lawsuit seeking to wind up Great Northern Aviation Pty Ltd, which operates the service, was filed in the Supreme Court this month by alleged creditor Mark O'Rourke.
He declined to comment yesterday and we could not reach the company's sole director and owner, John Sheppard, who serves as chief pilot. No defence has been filed in the matter.
In a troubling sign, the Compass Jet phone number had been disconnected when we rang for a chat yesterday.
Originally published as Angry Flight Centre clients weighing up class action