(Refiles to correct spelling of "Derby Day")
By Rebekah Kebede
PERTH, Australia Oct 29 Australian airline
Qantas left tens of thousands of passengers and nearly
20 world leaders in a lurch on Saturday 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
"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
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.
(Additional reporting by Rebekah Kebede and Jill Gralow in
PERTH, Nishant Kumar in Hong Kong, Kevin Lim in Singapore)