If German airline Lufthansa can explain to its customers why a new fuel surcharges has been added to tickets and when they can expect to drop it, why can’t Qantas, Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue do the same?

When it comes to Qantas, Crikey has become a sort of agony corner. Write something about the happenings in our national carrier and a slew of reaction, positive, supportive, and sometimes hostile emerges from the readership.

This past week it’s been no different. A few remarks about the letter-writing exploits of senior executive, John Borghetti and we find out his boss, Qantas, CEO, Geoff Dixon is holidaying in Colarado with a long time airline friends and a travel industry big hitter.

We also find out who writes the letters Geoff and John dispatch to the nation’s media, not to mention aggrieved customers, and we also find out that unlike its overseas competitors, Qantas, along with competitors, Virgin Blue and Air New Zealand are pulling a charming sleight of hand on currency movements and the fuel price surcharge.

It’s been a week of story, comment, questions, statements and opinions. Crikey readers are full of them about Qantas. There was the necessary corrective about the poor service one Crikeyette experienced (here) plus the usual collection of sniping and resignation criticism about frequent flying points.

A novice airline analyst produced some interesting points when they wrote:

“Despite the fall in fuel prices, neither Qantas nor Virgin have announced plans to reduce the “fuel surcharge” as they claim the cost reductions are insufficient.

“Yet the airline duopoly is reluctant to acknowledge the huge cost savings they have made as a result of the fall in the value of the US dollars against the Australian dollar.

“Most aircraft are priced and financed in US dollars. Boeing aircraft parts and GE and P&W engine parts are priced in US dollars. Financing costs and the cost of parts are major costs. In the past 18 months, these costs have fallen by 25 per cent.

“Could not some of the windfall savings from currency movements be used to offset high fuel prices?”

All good points, which prompted another reader, a travel agent, to predict:

“Look for further spot sales which will use the exchange rate savings to buy market share.

“My personal complaint is that I have been literally stripped of domestic airline income. Commission from Qantas in the Australia/New Zealand market has been reduced from 5% to 1%. Qantas wants all business through the internet and expect the consumer to be sold fares in an agency environment by paying a “service fee”. “

Hence the sneaky 50% rise in the telephone book fee to $15 this week.

This reader however pointed us towards the policy statement from Lufthansa on the oil price surcharge. Lufthansa has added $US10 to domestic fares and $US15 to international fares. These are per flight leg.

But Lufthansa added an important explanation that is absent from the Qantas, Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue announcements last year. The German airline explained when the surcharge would disappear. Here’s what it said:

“The new fuel surcharges will apply to all tickets purchased on or after 15 October 2004 and will remain in force until the crude oil price or the spot markets falls below USD 40.00 per barrel on 30 successive days.”

There’s been no sign of that sort of sustained fall so far, but at least travellers on Lufthansa know what to look for.

Compare that to this recent pronouncement from Air New Zealand, Qantas’ putative “alliance” partner, and contrast that with this statement from Qantas last October, about the same time Lufthansa issued its statement.

Not a word about when it would be reduced.

If you look and compare the two statements, at $A 29 for each leg of an international trip, Qantas looks expensive compared to Lufthansa with its $US 15 a leg charge. But that does reflect the greater distances (and therefore higher fuel consumption) Qantas flies compared to the German airline which would have most of its international routes within Europe.

But the Qantas attitude, like that of Virgin Blue and Air New Zealand, is simply not good enough.

It’s a sort of ‘trust us’ approach which is in short supply among Crikey readers judging by the reaction to each report on Qantas and other airlines.