Qantas strands Commonwealth leaders, passengers

PERTH, Australia, (Reuters) – Australian airline  Qantas left tens of thousands of passengers and nearly  20 world leaders in a lurch today after it grounded its  entire fleet due to an bitter dispute with airline unions.
Travellers in Australia and at regional hubs such as  Singapore and Hong Kong were fuming as their travel plans were  derailed and they were left without luggage and scrambling to  book other flights.
“It just comes across really badly, I’m proudly Australian  but it just leaves a really bad taste in your mouth,” Zoe  Johnson, an Australian living in Switzerland said at Perth  airport.
“So many so people say, ‘I’m never going to fly Qantas  again,’ and from my point of view its just feels like a kind of  bullying tactic really.”
Qantas’ decision comes at an inopportune time– the west  Australian city of Perth is hosting the Commonwealth heads of  government meeting in Perth and 17 heads of government could be  marooned in the remote city.
This weekend is also one of the Australia’s busiest travel  weekends, with tens of thousands making their way to the  Melbourne Cup horse race on Tuesday, dubbed “the race that stops  the nation.”
Horse-racing gamblers returning from the country’s second  biggest horse-racing event, Derby Day in Melbourne, were also  met with the news that their flights were cancelled.
The stoppage came as a shock to most travellers and even to  Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government, who  appeared to be blindsided by the cancellation and filed an  application to block Qantas and the unions.
“The only information we are getting right now is from our  kids back home,” Christine Joske, whose flight to Melbourne was  cancelled, said at the Hong Kong airport.
Qantas gave a notice to customers saying it would provide  for accommodation, meals, and transfers, as well as  reimbursement for cancelled flights.
The company  told customers to check for updates on Qantas’  Facebook page, which was inundated with hundreds of comments,  many of them berating the company’s chief executive, Alan Joyce  and criticizing the company decision to stop flights.

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