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Flooded north Queensland residents accuse airlines of price gouging during road closures

By Harriet Tatham, Friday March 9, 2018 - 17:48 EDT
ABC licensed image
The Abdy family cannot afford the flights to visit their daughter at boarding school. - ABC licensed

Just days after a low-pressure system dropped hundreds of millimetres of rain on Cloncurry in Queensland's north-west, cutting off road access, locals are accusing major airlines of unfairly increasing flight prices.

Hamish Griffin, a Cloncurry accommodation manager, woke up to a targeted Facebook advertisement that offered flights to Townsville for $974 one way.

"We've had a great deal of rain out here, which everybody is happy about — nobody is really moaning about the roads being cut off," Mr Griffin said.

"But when you see an airline offering a price of $974 for a one-way flight from Cloncurry to Townsville — it's more than double the prices that it would normally cost.

"It's an absolute slap on the face."

The Virgin Australia advertisement on Mr Griffin's Facebook feed does not refer to flights on any particular date, but as of 11:00am on Friday, a one-way flight price from Cloncurry to Townsville via Brisbane was $1,032.

"It's blatant price gouging," Mr Griffin said.

"When you click on the ad, it takes you to their booking portal … and then as you scroll down, you're faced with all these other offers which are their most popular routes.

"There was Melbourne to Perth for $109, Melbourne to the Gold Coast for $89, there was Brisbane to Auckland for $349 — it just rips you apart."

Mr Griffin said locals were desperate for the roads to reopen.

"We're all looking at the main roads website with bated breath waiting for the roads to open so we can get some essential supplies through," he said.

"Everybody is screaming out for fuel, we're screaming out for fresh fruit and veggies — there's mums out there worried about the supply of baby formula.

"Yeah, it's a tough time."

Family say they can't afford to visit daughter in boarding school

Cloncurry grazier Allan Abdy is similarly upset by the high flight prices.

"Our daughter is at boarding school in Townsville, and next weekend is going to be her cricket finals, and we were just hoping to fly down and visit her for the weekend," he said.

But with the cost totalling around $6,000 for Mr Abdy, his wife, and his two boys to get to Townsville, the family are forced to wait for the roads to reopen.

"Usually on Qantas you can see flights from $300 to $400 depending on what it is — sometimes it might be a bit cheaper one way, so that seems to be fairly excessive the recent prices they've been putting out there."

In a statement, Virgin Australia said their Facebook advertisement of $974 was not referring to any specific dates, but is made up of flights Mr Griffin has previously searched for.

"Virgin Australia uses remarketing tools on Facebook where an airfare viewed on the Virgin Australia website, for travel on a particular date and fare type, can reappear on that person's Facebook feed," the statement said.

The company said the cost of airfares is influenced by a number of factors, and they are continually reviewing pricing on all routes.

"Airfares on any given route are driven by a number of different factors including time of booking, customer demand, operating costs and third-party costs such as airport pricing and taxes.

Late bookings more expensive

Qantas said year-round flights start at a lower price, which is common practice among airlines.

Like Virgin Australia, Qantas said the later people book, the more expensive flights can get.

"Our year-round lead-in fare for flights between Cloncurry and Townsville start at $201 per person one way," a statement said.

"The closer to the date of travel, the more expensive the fare is likely because of demand.

"Less expensive seats will be purchased first, usually well in advance."


© ABC 2018

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