Australia says gynecological exams on female passengers in 2020 are factor in blocking additional flights

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Australia says a strip search of women at Qatar’s main airport in 2020 played a role in its decision this year to prevent Qatar Airways to sell more flights to Australiadenying having acted under pressure from his rival Qantas Airways.

The claim adds a new element to a controversy surrounding the Australian Labor government’s relationship with Qantas, which had lobbied against a request for Qatar Airways to increase its flights. The conservative opposition accused Labor of suppressing competition to protect Qantas and launched a senatorial inquiry on this decision. Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Thursday, Australian Transport Minister Catherine King said invasive body searches (in this case gynecological examinations) of female passengers, including Australians, at Hamad International Airport in 2020 was the “background” for the decision to deny the airline more flights to Australia last July. The airport authorities at the time needed to determine whether one of them had recently given birth.

“That wasn’t the only factor. It was a factor, Catherine King said, referring to the incident in which women were taken from a Qatar Airways plane and forced to undergo a medical examination after the discovery of an abandoned baby at the airport. The government of Qatar later apologized. It is “absurd” to suggest that adding additional flights with Qatar Airways would have put downward pressure on international fares, King added. The antitrust regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said more Qatar Airways flights would lead to a drop in plane ticket prices.

Last week the ACCC sued Qantas for breaching consumer law by selling tickets for some 8,000 flights after their cancellation in mid-2022.

Qantas CEO of 15 years Alan Joyce was due to retire in November but brought forward his departure citing criticism of the company’s past actions, leaving the first female CEO of the airline, Vanessa Hudson, will take office this week.

Qantas said it was reviewing the ACCC lawsuit, but the alleged wrongdoing took place at a time of unprecedented disruption in the aviation industry.

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