Qantas faces backlash over handling of cancer-stricken passenger's refund request

Navigating the skies of customer service can sometimes be as turbulent as a flight through a thunderstorm.

This was certainly the case for a 62-year-old man, whose battle with cancer was compounded by another struggle from Australia's flagship carrier, Qantas.

His story is a stark reminder of the importance of understanding the fine print and advocating for one's rights, especially in times of hardship.

Neil Ross, a former pilot and bus driver, had booked a flight to Tasmania through Flight Centre in Browns Plains, Queensland, to attend the memorial of his flying instructor. However, the pandemic led to a change of plans, and he was issued a credit of $1100.

Last year, he planned a trip to Cairns with his wife for a couple of weeks, but to his surprise, two weeks later, he received a cancer diagnosis.

Initially diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, further tests revealed facial cancer, which led to a 13-hour operation to remove the tumour, resulting in significant disfigurement to the right side of his face.

Neil Ross, a 62-year-old man battling cancer, faced a refund struggle with Qantas who initially denied it on the grounds of ‘compassionate reasons’. Credits: Shutterstock

'It hit me like a rock,' Mr Ross recounted, expressing the shock of his diagnosis.

‘I wasn’t in the life of me, expecting that news.’

The treatment that followed was gruelling, with six weeks of radiation therapy five days a week, Mr Ross said it ‘knocked him to no end’.

‘I was very thankful that my wife had helped me and still is helping me to get through this,’ he shared.

Mr Ross has not yet received full clearance and continues to undergo treatments.

He attended ENT appointments due to complications with his ear canal and participated in rehab to address muscle loss.

Additionally, he is scheduled for plastic surgery to reconstruct the right side of his face.

‘I had notified Flight Centre that I needed to cancel my flight due to finding out that I had cancer and that l needed treatment urgently,’ Mr Ross narrated.

‘As I said to the girl at Flight Centre—“Look at my face, do you think I want to get a refund for the hell of it? I rather be healthy and go on holiday.”’

Mr Ross mentioned that the airline provided him with a credit note valid until April 22 of this year; however, due to his current situation, he was unable to fly before that date and requested a full refund.

Despite providing two medical certificates—including a more detailed one from Princess Alexandra Hospital about his condition—Mr Ross stated it ‘did not meet requirements on compassion’.

‘The medical certificate stated that due to medical reasons I can’t fly; this was then rejected by Qantas,’ he said.

‘I was then asked that I needed to support my medical condition in more detail.’

Mr Ross, who resigned from his job after his diagnosis, stated that he visited his local hospital to request a more detailed certificate.

‘I submitted that (through Flight Centre) and they (Qantas) came back and said “No” as it doesn’t comply with their guidelines,’ he recalled.

‘I thought “What more can I do?” This has done nothing but cause me a great deal of stress that I don’t need.’

The email from a Flight Centre representative sent to Mr Ross read: ‘As we discussed on the phone, unfortunately, Qantas has rejected our latest refund yesterday 23 April 2024, request submitted 9 April 2024 based on the grounds of medical compassion. They have advised that “the attached medical certificate does not fit into the GF guidelines for a refund due to compassionate reasons”.’

‘This is on the back of our first request submitted 20 March 2024 which was rejected on 4 April 2024 in which they advised the medical certificates did not provide them enough detail to consider compassionate grounds.’

Mr Ross asserted that his request for the refund is less about the money and more about ‘standing up for the smaller people—those who don’t have that fight in them’.

‘This has gone way past a refund,’ he remarked.

‘Qantas is causing me nothing but grief and stress, which I am feeling that I am nothing to them other than a pain.’

It wasn't until media inquiries were made that Qantas revisited Mr Ross's case and issued an apology, along with the refund he had sought.

‘We apologise to Mr Ross for this experience and have let him know we’re processing a refund for him,’ Qantas said.

It was reported that an error in processing the supplementary material was cited as the reason for the initial refusal.

Adam Glezer of Consumer Champion, who advocated on Mr Ross's behalf, criticised Qantas's handling of the situation as ‘extremely unsympathetic’.

‘It made me very angry how Qantas could treat any individual like this let alone one going through the fight of his life,’ he stated.

He acknowledged that although the first medical certificate stated that Mr Ross was unfit to fly for 12 months and lacked additional details, according to the second certificate, he should have been entitled to an immediate refund.

‘It should never have been dismissed,’ Mr Glezer argued.

‘Qantas needs to do a lot better and have genuine empathy towards customers’ situations.’

‘When it goes this far, apologies don’t mean much because it appears they are only apologising because they have been caught out,’ he added.

It was reported that Qantas has apologised to Mr Ross for the distress caused and is investigating how the error occurred to prevent it from happening again.

As Qantas faces scrutiny over its handling of a cancer-stricken passenger's refund request, another story emerges highlighting the airline's response to a different situation.

In a rare move, Qantas granted a full refund to a couple after a grim discovery following a 10-hour flight.

These contrasting experiences underscore the importance of consistent and compassionate customer service, especially when faced with challenging circumstances.
Key Takeaways
  • Neil Ross, a 62-year-old Brisbane man with cancer struggled with Qantas over a refund for his flight, which was initially not granted on the grounds of ‘compassionate reasons’.
  • He had to cancel his trip due to urgent cancer treatment and was initially issued a credit note but was unable to fly before the expiry due to his health condition.
  • After a media inquiry and the advocacy efforts of Consumer Champion Adam Glezer, Qantas approached Mr Ross and issued him a refund, admitting an error in processing his medical certificates.
  • Qantas apologised to Mr Ross for the ordeal and is reviewing their processes to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Have you faced similar challenges? What advice would you give to fellow travellers? We invite you to share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below.
Your fare of $175 each way from Brisbane to Perth was either a very good special or, more importantly, an off season fare when no one is travelling (perhaps during winter). Fares are not cheap when one has to travel on a specific date but, yes, they are cheaper when you can pick and choose your dates. Webjet seems to also have their own added extra cost for booking through them. I could be wrong on this though. Most airlines will not refund (they’ll usually give a credit to use later) just for a ‘change of plans’, no matter what, but some can be sympathetic with a full refund in the case of medical urgencies. Not always, as we’ve been hearing lately.
Yes you're right Webjet do include charges, but not that much
No my trip wasn't winter it was actually 6th Feb to 16th Feb this year to spend my birthday with my son and family
It wasn't any particular promotion, but I did book it about 4 months in advance .
Just lucky I guess.
Have already booked for next year thru Jetstar recent promotion $389 return, includes additional leg space and travel insurance.

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