From one end of the Gold Coast to the other, the radio airwaves
are howling with disgruntled and disenfranchised Qantas business and
frequent flyers as the full impact of the imminent arrival of
subsidiary Jetstar becomes apparent.
In the wake of Qantas scrapping its Melbourne-Gold Coast route to be
totally replaced by “cattle class” Jetstar, Gold Coast business flyers
are foaming at the mouth that seven daily Qantas flights to Sydney will
shrink to just two come July, with Jetstar taking up the slack.

Qantas claims it was only averaging about 2 or 3 business class tickets
a day on its Melbourne route which sounds incredibly low or their
marketing department needs a cattle prod! While Qantas today
assured the Gold Coast its Jetstar cattle will be flying into
Tullamarine and not via the black stump at Avalon, it also
claimed it is “investing in significant extra capacity” (20%) via
the new services. But as one caller suggested, this additional
capacity is purely down to the cramped extra seating via Jetstar.
So where’s the significant investment other than replacing Qantas with
“dumbed down” Jetstar’s no thrills services?

Chief among business people airing their complaints is that on the
cramped extra seating that typifies cattle class flying it’s virtually
impossible to do any business via their laptop etc compared to the
elbow room of Business Class.

On a one-day business trip to Melbourne that’s four hours when they
can’t do normal in-flight work. Also Qantas frequent flyers will
earn no reward points on any of the Jetstar budget flights.

But the real bone of contention among leading Gold Coast business
figures, Local Government and tourist bodies, is that while welcoming
the greater affordability for Jetstar flights to and from the Gold
Coast (on average 30% below today’s prices), the loss of Business Class
seating is seen as disastrous.

The major abandonment of premium seating will be enormously damaging to
the top end of the business and tourist trade, including impacting on
its spanking new convention centre due to open for business at roughly
the same time as Jetstar cranks up for business as one cramped class
fits all. That is no thrills sub-economy for most, or “cattle
class” for the well heeled business flyer.

The Gold Coast Bulletin best captures the angst of local business folk
reaching for the smelling salts. Today’s front page is completely
taken over by the flying kangaroo. “DAMN YOU, QANTAS – We are
Australia’s five-star tourist capital, not your no thrills Hicksville.”

There is little doubt the Bulletin’s outrage is on the money in
reporting the local business community views the Qantas downgrade as a
massive snub. While Qantas claims to have the support and understanding
of local business and Government in earlier consultations, it’s hard to
identify anyone who might supposedly agree who was included in this
process? More pointedly one radio talkback caller claimed no
local Platinum Business Class flyers had been consulted, the very
people who book the Business Class seats.

Qantas also claims its local staff fully supported the move. Yet
callers claiming to have spoken with airport staff suggest just the
opposite. That any overt staff support is merely people feeling
compelled to toe the company line.

The Bulletin and business community are united in believing Jetstar’s
arrival is not all it’s cracked up to be and Qantas should bunker down
for a bumpy ride in the weeks ahead. Mayor Ron Clarke and Premier
Peter Beattie will surely join in the chorus of protest, while the
Bulletin is running hard and promising a sustained campaign that’s
already off to a flyer today as it rails (sic) against the Qantas
“dumbing down” of its services.

Qantas may well have underestimated just how hard the top end of town
and a committed sustained local media can run on a pretty emotive issue
when they’re being blamed for treating the coast as “Hicksville”!
The Gold Coast makeover also more fully reveals how aggressively Qantas
is stripping away core domestic services to the point where Jetstar is
less about being a low-cost competitor to Virgin Blue. Rather
it’s Qantas actually reinventing itself as Jetstar far more
comprehensively than the unions or the industry generally could have
imagined when it first announced the new no thrills
entry.

Peter Fray

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