Alan Joyce has sparked an extraordinary war of words between Qantas and Virgin Australia after he was accused of spreading ‘serious misinformation’ by his rival airline.
In two TV appearances on Friday morning, the Qantas CEO gloated that his carrier’s operational performance is ‘better than what it was before Covid’, despite recent issues that saw eight flights have to turn back in January.
Mr Joyce told Sunrise and the Today Show that turnbacks are ‘really rare’ and insisted Virgin experienced the same amount ‘or a bit more’ in the same month.
In a fiery response, Virgin slammed Mr Joyce for spreading ‘serious misinformation’.
That prompted another reply by Qantas, who told Daily Mail Australia that the Virgin statement was ‘strange and disappointing’.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (pictured) appeared on Sunrise and the Today Show insisting the airline had the same amount of flight turnbacks as Virgin Australia in January
The row started after Mr Joyce’s comments on Friday about the turnbacks suffered by Qantas in January.
‘What I am saying is that Qantas mainline… in the month of January had eight turn backs, six on the 737s,’ Mr Joyce told Sunrise host Natalie Barr.
‘Virgin actually had roughly the same number, I think it was a bit more, on the 737 fleet which is around the same size.’
This prompted a Virgin spokesperson to tell Daily Mail Australia the airline had four air returns in January – half the number experienced by its competitor.
‘Virgin Australia wishes to correct serious misinformation provided by our major competitor’s CEO during media interviews this morning,’ Virgin Airlines said.
‘In January we flew approximately 26 per cent more Boeing 737 flights compared to our major competitor, and experienced half of the air returns they experienced.
‘We can confirm that Virgin Australia had four engineering related air returns in its mainline fleet in January 2023 – not the eight as suggested to media by our competitor – and one in February.’
‘Three of those engineering related air returns have been in the past three weeks – not six or more as suggested to media by our competitor.’
Virgin Airlines (pictured) accused Mr Joyce of spreading ‘serious misinformation’ and claimed it only had four engineering related air returns – half the amount of its competitor
Virgin said its January mainline turnbacks included a Perth to Kalgoorlie flight on January 10, Perth to Brisbane flight on January 11, Darwin to Melbourne flight on January 20 and a Brisbane to Darwin flight on January 28.
The airline said it is proud of its operational performance and conducted air returns in accordance with operational procedures without any risk to the flights.
‘At Virgin Australia the safety of our guests and crew is always our number one priority,’ Virgin Airlines said.
Qantas Airlines fired back at its rival labelling the comments ‘strange and disappointing’.
The national carrier told Daily Mail Australia Virgin was ‘whittling down’ their figures based on semantics.
‘It’s strange that Virgin would choose to be defensive about turnbacks when our whole message today was that they are a normal and safe part of aviation,’ Qantas said.
‘And it’s disappointing that their only contribution to the public discussion on this topic has been to whittle down their turnback figures through careful definitions.
‘Whether a turnback is for engineering reasons, a bird strike, a sick passenger or weather, they are all ultimately about safety and don’t need to be minimised.’
Qantas fired back labelling Virgin Australia’s comments as ‘strange’ and ‘disappointing’ claiming the airline was diminishing its figures through careful definitions
It comes after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was mocked for claiming the airline is ‘back to its best’ despite several issues still plaguing his company
The airline shared data collected from the global flight tracking service Flightradar24 showing Virgin’s eight air returns with its 737 fleet in January.
However, the data does not show the reasons for the flight turnbacks.
It comes after Mr Joyce was criticised for claiming Qantas is ‘back to its best’ in an op-ed on Thursday.
Mr Joyce heaped praise on his airline claiming the ‘Spirit of Australia’ had drastically improved its services right across the board.
‘We’ve been the most on-time of the major domestic airlines for five months in a row,’ he wrote.
The CEO explained Qantas’ turnback rate in the past 12 months was consistent with its pre-covid levels, with one returning plane for every 2,000 flights.
‘Our service levels – bags, cancellations, catering and the call centre – are back to what customers expect from us. And we’re working to make it better.’
A Qantas tweet about Mr Joyce’s comments sparked a furious backlash from irate customers who endured a disastrous series of months with the airline ranging from lost luggage, unresponsive call centres and ‘flight credit’ fails.