Qantas Says ‘Sorry’ With Free Tickets After Fleet Grounding

Qantas Airways Ltd., Australia’s biggest carrier, offered free flights to apologize to passengers stranded when the fleet was grounded for two days last month during a dispute with labor unions.

Passengers whose journeys were disrupted by the halt are entitled to a free return economy flight within Australia or to New Zealand over a two-year period from Dec. 14, the Sydney- based airline said.

“This ticket offer is one of a range of initiatives we will be launching as a way of saying sorry,” Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said in a statement yesterday. “Throughout the long period of industrial activity we have been acutely aware of the impact on our customers.”

About 80,000 passengers were affected when Qantas grounded 108 aircraft worldwide on Oct. 29 for about 48 hours in an attempt to end strikes. Qantas and its engineers union resumed talks today with industrial relations regulator Fair Work Australia, Peter Somerville, general manager of the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association, said by telephone.

Fair Work ordered an end to stoppages on Oct. 31, giving the airline and its engineers, long-haul pilots and baggage handlers 21 days to reach a new contract or face binding arbitration.

The disruption cost Qantas A$68 million ($71 million), the airline has said. The offer of free flights may cost the carrier as much as A$20 million, the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph newspaper reported at the weekend.