The saga of Peter Costello’s kids being upgraded to business class
against their father’s express directions for that flight home from
LA in January raises plenty of questions about the culture within our
national airline. We all know that airlines possess a commodity – food,
drink and comfortable travel away from the masses – that is
highly sought after so the big question is what they charge, or don’t
charge, for the service.

Back in December 1998, I was working in Sydney on The Daily Telegraph
when someone associated with the Transport Workers’ Union invited me to
see a stage performance in Melbourne. This seemed rather odd at the
time but we had a lovely business class
flight down, all of which apparently came gratis from Qantas as they
looked after the union bruvvas.

But the largesse spreads far wider than a few key unionists. Qantas has
long been known for throwing free flights at travel hacks in return for
gushing pieces and we also saw through the cash for comment saga that
Qantas was happy to
pay
Alan Jones and John Laws with a combination of cash and free first
class flights.

However, it is Federal politicians who are on the greatest Qantas
free ride
going around, most notably through their automatic membership of the
Chairman’s Lounge, which is worth thousands of dollars a year for each
and every MP, plus their nominated partner. Ever wondered why you never
bump into a politician in the Qantas Club? They’re all over lapping it
up in the Chairman’s Lounge.

In any other corporate case, could you imagine an MP in receipt of
thousands of dollars of contra being perceived to be, or actually being fair and
balanced, in their policy deliberations? This Qantas largesse is the equivalent of Telstra paying all MPs’ home
phone bills or PBL annually giving $2,000 worth of free gaming chips to every federal MP.

It just shouldn’t be happening so we’re interested to find out more
about this rort. Is it something that Qantas voluntarily dishes out as
a strategy to keep sweet with the politicians when it comes to policy
issues such as opening up the Pacific Route to more competition? Is it
a bargaining chip they could dump at any time if regulation got a bit
intense?

Is it a throwback to the days when Qantas was government owned? Or does
the taxpayer shell out some whacking great sum each year for the
privilege. If so, how much? Is it capped?

Unlike us ordinary folk who would have to pay fringe benefits tax on
such a perk, the hypocritical federal pollies suffer no such ignominy
for supping at the Qantas trough. So many questions, yet so few
answers. Anyone who can shed some light on this or just wishes to let
off some steam should email [email protected]

Peter Fray

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