Own Flight Centre shares? Here's why the company is sticking up for Qantas

Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner is standing up for the embattled Qantas.

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Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd (ASX: FLT) shares have escaped the negative publicity embroiling Qantas Airways Ltd (ASX: QAN) over the past month.

While the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) travel stock has also come under selling pressure over the last four weeks, its shares have massively outperformed Qantas in 2023.

Since the opening bell on 3 January, Qantas shares are down 5.6%. Flight Centre shares have gone the other way, gaining 41% year to date.

Now, here's why Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner is standing up for the embattled Qantas.

Flight Centre shares escape consumer anger

As you're likely aware, Qantas has been rocked by a series of unwanted events recently. These include the airline allegedly selling tickets to more than 8,000 cancelled flights last year.

August saw the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commence legal action over the matter in Federal Court. It also saw the shock early departure of long-time CEO Alan Joyce, which in turn saw newly minted CEO Vanessa Hudson take up the role early.

While none of these ructions appear to have impacted Flight Centre shares directly, Turner last week defended the ASX 200 airline's battered reputation. And he said he felt sorry for both Joyce and Hudson, given the recent situation.

"Alan did a lot of great things in his 15 years as CEO, and I'm sorry that's been overshadowed by current issues," Turned said (quoted by The Australian).

As for the new CEO, Turner added, "But I probably feel a bit sorrier for Vanessa Hudson, who's got to take on the challenges now." He joked that if he were Hudson, "I'd take a sabbatical for about a year."

But Turner doesn't believe the damage to the Qantas image will be lasting.

"It will be a tough job getting back to where the Qantas brand was in the past. But I'll be surprised if they don't get it back in the next six to 12 to 18 months," he said.

As for the painful months just past for Qantas, Turner said that had more to do with the lengthy pandemic domestic and international border closures.

"Airlines don't just get up and running without operation issues, it takes time, and Qantas had probably borne the brunt of that a bit unfairly," he said.

As for selling tickets to cancelled flights, he added, "Personally, I think it's about operational competence rather than trying to get commercial gain."

How has the ASX 200 travel stock performed longer-term?

After a strong run in 2023, Flight Centre shares are now up 23% over the past 12 months.

The ASX 200 travel stock remains down some 50% from its pre-COVID levels.

Motley Fool contributor Bernd Struben has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Flight Centre Travel Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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