Gregory MP, Lachlan Millar wants Qantas to “come clean” on its western Queensland pricing rationale, after the company said it was unable to release details of residents fares for commercial reasons.
People using the regulated route from Blackall, Barcaldine and Longreach to Brisbane have been paying more to fly to Brisbane than it costs them to fly overseas to Auckland, and Mr Millar has been campaigning for cheaper airfares for them since last November.
One way of reducing the cost is to obtain a residents fare, which is booked through travel agents, but Mr Millar said people were telling him they could never get one, and he queried the transparency of the process.
A Qantas spokeswoman said the company had different fare levels on each route on its network.
“We don’t disclose how many fares are available at each price point simply for commercial reasons. Most airlines operate this way,” she said.
Mr Millar said this response was unacceptable.
“What is the commercial reason not to disclose fare levels when it’s a regulated route and there’s no competition to worry about,” he said.
“We need more than corporate spin.
“We need Qantas to actually give us a reason why fares are so expensive.”
This week a flight between Longreach and Brisbane would have cost Mr Millar $458 economy one-way, while a flight between Longreach and Sydney would require an outlay of $30 more, for a $487 fare.
A trip from Longreach to Auckland this week, under the same seat conditions, is priced at $469.
Qantas has previously said residents fares of $175 one-way are generally available through travel agents up to three or four days before preferred travel dates for those making last-minute bookings.
A check with a Longreach agent found this week, on the daily flight between Longreach and Brisbane, there was one residents fare on offer on the March 12 flight, another on March 14, two on March 15 and another two on March 18.
The Qantas spokewoman said plenty of sales were offered throughout the year, including four sales since Christmas on the QantasLink flights to Longreach, to help with affordability.
They often require people to forecast ahead some months, and a cost is imposed for changes to dates of travel. Mr Millar said they didn’t take into account unexpected travel for health, business or personal needs.
A transport consultation meeting at Barcaldine last September was told by Qantas regional manager Elsa Dalessio that revenue on the central two regulated route in question was steady, despite drought conditions cutting western Queenslanders’ discretionary spending.
She said there was a gap between seats available and passenger numbers, giving them the option of growing tourism, which many at the session were asking for.
When questioned about marketing strategies and getting more “bums on seats”, Ms Dalessio said residents fares weren’t all sold.
She added that QantasLink couldn’t run the service at a loss.
“Fares are offered on an economic forecast, based on our government contract,” she said. “If we lose money, you lose the service.”
In his campaign, Mr Millar has contrasted Longreach-Brisbane flight prices with Emerald-Brisbane charges, which are usually half the price.
The latter route is unregulated and serviced by both Qantas and Virgin.
“Qantas hasn’t been able to justify the difference in prices; because the only difference is that it’s a competitive route,” Mr Millar said.
“Qantas is taking advantage of a situation where we’ve got no choice.
“When you are getting a government subsidy, you have a community service obligation to fulfil.
“We need Qantas, but we need them to be fair.
“It’s time for Qantas to come clean, sit down with us and work out how we can get fares cheaper.”
Qantas did not respond to questions asking whether it was taking the subsidy available from the state government as the operator on a regulated route.
It said it wasn’t accurate to simply use distance as a factor in the determination of air fare pricing as there were a number of factors that contribute to how airlines determine fare pricing, such as fuel, airport charges for landing, and security fees and aircraft type among other things.