Qantas baby overbooking enrages mothers

CANBERRA: Australia's largest airline has created a furore by bumping some mothers with young children because it booked too many babies on certain flights to the capital next month.

Hundreds of mothers with their young children had planned to go to Canberra and rally Sept. 7 outside Parliament, speaking out against proposed laws they say discriminate against women who choose to give birth at home.

The spike in flight bookings for babies was "extremely unusual, almost to the point of being unique," a Qantas Airways spokesman said Wednesday.

Because federal safety regulations limit to eight the number of children under the age of 2 who can fly aboard a Boeing 737, some of those booked to fly to and from Canberra on Sept. 7 were told they will have to take a different flight, the Qantas spokesman said on the airline's condition of anonymity.

The spokesman could not say how many mothers with infants had been overbooked.

More than 20 babies had been booked on some flights, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Wednesday.

"We regret any inconvenience caused by this rare situation," the Qantas spokesman said. The airline has offered fare refunds.

But rally organiser Justine Caines, secretary of Home Birth Australia, said mothers were angry at getting told last weekend they had been bumped, weeks after making bookings.

"They're not coming here for a quilt exhibition. They're coming because they feel that their rights are being diminished considerably, and now they can't even get here," Caines told The Associated Press in Canberra.

The Qantas spokesman said the airline's booking system does not automatically detect when the child passenger limit is reached, but Caines said the women should not be penalised for that.

Caines said Qantas should compensate the women for accommodation costs incurred by changing their flights.

She had heard of no problems with bookings on Virgin Blue, the other major Australian airline that services Canberra.

Virgins Blue spokeswoman Amanda Bolger said her airline's reservation system automatically recognised the cap on children under 2 years when bookings were made.

The child limit was set based on a number of factors, including supplies of life preservers and infant seat belts.