IT IS a dummy spit of enormous proportions and it has left Qantas reeling.
Hundreds of babies, all flying to Canberra next month for a national homebirth rally, have been hurriedly bumped off flights after the airline’s computerised booking system failed to alert staff that too many infants were being put on each plane.
Civil Aviation Safety Authority rules stipulate that only eight babies are allowed on each flight to match the number of infant oxygen masks available, but more than 20 babies were booked on some journeys.
Qantas staff began contacting customers at the weekend, telling them they must stay overnight in Canberra, take indirect flights or cancel their journeys.
More than 1200 women and children are expected to attend the rally outside Parliament House on September 7, and most had planned to fly in and out of Canberra on the same day, but scores have now cancelled, saying they cannot afford to pay for accommodation or be away from their other children.
Rachael Forbes, from Brisbane, paid extra for a direct flight with her 11-month-old daughter, Sophie, but was told by Qantas she must now stay the night, forcing her husband to take time off work to care for their three other children.
‘‘I have to see if my friend can put me up or pay for a motel. I was travelling with two friends, who have not been bumped, so now it will cost me extra for a taxi home from the airport, too. I really believe in women having a choice to homebirth and that’s why I want to go but it’s annoying when you’re a one-income family.’’
Another mother, Rebecca Jenkinson, said she was irritated that Qantas had not noticed the problem earlier.
‘‘The website allowed 21 people to book travel with infants and it took them several weeks to notice. Had the Qantas website been more transparent about what flights I could actually travel on, then I would definitely have made different travel plans.’’
A Qantas spokesman said staff should have been alerted once eight babies had been accepted, but the airline would not pay for accommodation for bumped parents. ‘‘When we know that an infant limit has been exceeded on a flight, we call customers, based on the last customer to book, advise them of the situation and offer confirmed alternative flights,’’ he said. ‘‘If no alternative is suitable, we are more than happy to offer a refund.’’