WHILE Alan Joyce asserts the decision to ground the airline was made only on Saturday morning, a union leader claims the decision was premeditated, accusing the Qantas boss of misleading shareholders at last Friday's annual meeting.
''I had some indicators they [Qantas] were up to something. I was told prior to the AGM that Qantas was booking thousands of hotel rooms around the world,'' said Captain Richard Woodward, a senior Qantas pilot and vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association - one of the three unions in the dispute.
He claimed that Mr Joyce had met other airline chief executives in the ''previous weeks'' to garner their support.
''Those hotel rooms were booked before the AGM, so Alan Joyce and [chairman] Leigh Clifford sat there and cynically led those poor shareholders through [the AGM] … knowing full well they intended to shut the airline down … within 24 hours.''
Qantas yesterday confirmed the airline had booked 10,247 passengers in hotel rooms: 8485 passengers variously in the US, Asia, Europe and South America; and 1762 in Australian capital cities.
Just when they were booked remains contentious.
Either way, Captain Woodward is not alone in his suspicions. ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said: ''Clearly there has been a conspiracy here.
''It's interesting that there's been approaches by the New South Wales and Victorian governments. It's interesting that Qantas seems to have very detailed plans in place,'' he said.
The Qantas board, which includes former Commonwealth Bank chairman John Schubert and former Defence chief General Peter Cosgrove, met in Sydney the morning after the AGM to hear the options for the battle plan.
They gave the green light to lock out staff and ground Qantas's fleet in unprecedented steps that would cost the national carrier millions each day and untold brand damage.
Then, at 2pm on Saturday, Mr Joyce picked up the phone to call federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to break the news.
Shortly afterwards he spoke to Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans and Tourism Minster Martin Ferguson, who had been the most supportive publicly of Qantas's cause.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was not on his phone list.
Yesterday Mr Albanese said a safety risk-assessment document that Qantas tabled to Fair Work Australia, dated October 20, ''certainly suggests that Qantas was working through scenarios including a lockout of the workforce''.
''I think anyone who knows anything about the aviation industry would find remarkable the suggestion that the Qantas board met yesterday morning, one day after their annual general meeting, and made a decision to shut down the whole of their domestic and international operations by five o'clock yesterday [Saturday] afternoon.''
The Age was told 11 days ago by an aviation industry source that Qantas was prepared to go as far as grounding the entire international fleet over the industrial dispute.
On the same day, October 20, Qantas's head of government relations, Olivia Wirth, dismissed that scenario as having no foundation.
''I've not heard that. That's just a rumour,'' Ms Wirth said.
But Mr Joyce does admit that Qantas had ''weeks of planning on a range of different scenarios'' in the lead-up to the Qantas AGM, including the grounding of the fleet and lockout of the pilots, engineers and ground crew.
He insisted yesterday that the decision to act was not made until Saturday. ''These stories out there that we booked hotels beforehand are not true. We did not book hotels until the Saturday,'' he said.
''Qantas has contingency plans at the ready for external shocks, allowing it to make plans hastily to accommodate thousands of passengers.
''We have done it it multiple times this year,'' he said, citing the A380 fleet grounding after an engine explosion and the volcanic ash cloud disruptions.
''We always have plans ready for every scenario. We always have plans ready for us to take the action that we did. They're in place. There is a lot of planning that goes into this,'' Mr Joyce said.