Crikey, the unofficial Qantas watch website takes a peek at what CEO Geoff Dixon has been up to over the holidays.

Yep, Geoff Dixon, the Qantas CEO is indeed ‘resting’ over the festive break, leaving the defence of Qantas’s image and reputation to executive general manager, John Borghetti – Holiday shift at Qantas.

Indeed, John had another letter in the Qantas (and PBL) house journal today, The Australian Financial Review, replying to that classic of last Thursday from a Sydney reader who wondered if his letter of complaint about travelling on Qantas would have any impact. More of that later.

And no doubt John will be out there again replying to the news that Qantas, the sneaky airline, has quietly shoved up the telephone booking fee by 50% to $15 (from $10).

The sneaky rise in the fee was disclosed to Crikey by a friend who had to book a fare at the last minute late last week. There’s also a story in today’s Murdoch press about the price gouge (read more here).

Geoff Dixon has been resting from the hurly burly of fighting the demons of world aviation (and there was another in the AFR this morning with House writer, Tansy Harcourt chatting to the head of Singapore Airlines, who have Qantas a bit of a touch up).

Geoff has been spending some time with that travel industry heavyweight and unofficial representative for Malta, Leslie Cassar at his lodge in Colorado. Good skiing no doubt with a big dump last week! (more about Leslie Cassar here and here from the background to the Tourism Task Force).

Note the membership on the TTF of Penny Bingham Hall, an executive of Leighton Holdings, a company a million miles away from a direct involvement in tourism.

And what is Leighton’s interest in tourism? Would it be in building roads and infrastructure, while its travel bill throughout Australia and in and out of Asia, would probably qualify it. The frequent flier points would be huge. A new currency!

And, fancy that, Geoff Dixon is a director of Leighton, his only external directorship. An amazing coincidence!

And here is more detail on the way Concorde Travel became Transonic. Note the involvement of British Airways in Concorde. BA was the cornerstone investor in Qantas until it sold last year.

Mr Cassar was a senior manager at Qantas until he quit in 1978, well ahead of when Geoff became involved in the early 90s. Geoff was probably still working for the Australian Government in 1978, or may have just returned home from the US and gone into private industry.

Readers though wondering if Geoff or Johnnie Borghetti actually take time out to craft their replies to the various letters and other commentaries on the airline, should think again.

The author of all things Qantas to the media is Geoffrey’s relation, Michael Sharp and then edited by the sender (Geoff or Johnnie) in small ways, to sort of personalize the reply. The “junk yard dog” style however is a prerequisite for all outgoing letters be they to customers, the media or to other businesses. Geoff only knows one way to communicate and that is “attack”, as we saw with the now notorious “Hamilton Island Jetstar letter”.

That approach was again evident in John Borghetti’s reply to Tony Forrest, the writer of that classic letter last Thursday.

The tenor of the reply can be seen by the penultimate paragraph, “By any comparison Qantas is one of the leading airlines of the world”. So there!

Tony Forrest had wondered if his letter would have any impact when he criticised the performance of Qantas, compared to other airlines and in the various classes of travel on each plane.

“I would like to assure Tony Forrest (Qantas shortcomings January 5) that Qantas does compare itself with other international airlines”.

The letter then goes on to become an encomium for the Mangled Roo’s fabulous customer service, which will no doubt set Mr. Forrest’s mind at rest and assure him that his concerns have been “addressed”!

Another Michael Sharp classic, a skill he honed while working at the Lowy empire.

Meanwhile, the story in the AFR detailing the complaints of Singapore Airlines about Qantas locking access out of Australia to the US routes, will no doubt produce a reply from the Management Hangar at Mascot.

But you have to take the Tansy Harcourt article with a small grain of salt. Last year she was granted good access to Dixon and Qantas to push the line about the big nasty unfair government supported airlines competing with little Qantas.

Airlines like Gulf Air and Emirates, and Singapore Airlines, which is 57% owned by the Singapore Government’s investment arm, Temasek Holdings.

Temasek could very well be the largest single shareholder in Qantas following the exit of BA (Temasek could have a 3% stake).

More importantly Temasek is a major shareholder in the Qantas operated Jetstar Asia that’s based in Singapore and would not be in business if Temasek wasn’t a shareholder.

Given the closeness of the links a reasonable reader would be entitled to wonder the real purpose for the AFR story today that’s headlined ‘Qantas under fire on US air routes’.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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