The Week in Focus: Fuel hearing runs out of gas

The Week in Focus: Fuel hearing runs out of gas
By admin

The fuel surcharge class action is soon to enter its seventh year. I’ll say that again. Its seventh year.

Those of you who were around back in 2006, when Slater and Gordon first lodged the action, may be fed up to the back teeth of it. But you may like the following paragraph. It’s coming to an end. Well, maybe.

At Sydney’s Federal Court this week, Leonie’s Travel v Air New Zealand finally got underway in earnest, and as it did so, the last of the airlines named in the original class action had its moment in court.

Qantas had been the only previous carrier to defend its policy of splitting its fuel surcharge and making it non-commissionable, a policy of course which lay at the very heart of the case.

Qantas lost the case after lawyers acting for travel agents appealed the original ruling in favour of the airline.
Following that ruling, considered fairly momentous at the time, other airlines settled out of court, namely Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific.

But not Air NZ which continued to dig its heels in.

Yet after three days of niggly debate, claim and counter claim in court 21A of the Federal Court, the two sides agreed to talk and settle their differences without the need for a judicial ruling.

Now maybe I’m missing something here, but if the two sides came to that conclusion this week, why was it not possible months or even years ago?

Little wonder that lawyers tend to be the winners in these types of disputes.

Of course nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems. And commercial disagreements can get messy. But I can’t be the only one left a little perplexed at the outcome.

However, that may not be the end of the story as the two parties could not even agree on whether an agreement has been reached. While lawyers for travel agents reckoned a binding agreement had been struck, Air NZ thought otherwise, with one unidentified “issue” unresolved.

Further out of court discussions will now take place, but should there be stalemate "it could get difficult”, as one of the parties said. As Travel Today has done for the past six years, we’ll keep you posted.

On a side note, Travel Today was dragged into the jousting between lawyers on Tuesday, with Air NZ claiming our story of October 16 – D-day looms for Air New Zealand – had been planted in order to tarnish the image of the carrier in the eyes of travel agents. Justice Robertson disagreed that the story was damaging to the airline.

For the record, no story was planted in Travel Today. It was a factual, objective story about Air NZ’s two court hearings which began on the same day. That’s what we do. We report on industry issues. And we will continue to do so.

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