Qantas was, once, more than just an airline to most Australians — it was part of the national character. Its safety record was the envy of the world, and the flying kangaroo and staff with Australian accents were always welcome sights for weary travellers heading home from overseas. It was a trusted, even loved, brand, one of the great Australian institutions.

That enviable status has been slowly, methodically, trashed over the last decade, in favour of poorer service, cheapjack offshoots, foreign outsourcing, a perceived fall in safety standards and an attitude of hostility toward its Australian staff.

The result has had a certain inevitability: as Qantas has behaved more and more like just another company, it has been perceived that way by Australians. And if Qantas is just another company, just another airline, then it relinquishes any special claims of affection from Australian travellers. Other airlines — usually offering significantly better services and/or cheaper fares, present a much better option for international travellers.

And thus, in a vicious circle, Qantas responded to the loss of patronage by further cutting back on services, further outsourcing, further reliance on low cost franchises, further confirming to Australians that it was indistinguishable from its competitors — except, of course, that its competitors were better.

Today’s announcements — more of the same, with 1000 jobs lost, another low cost franchise, more routes abandoned — simply signals another step in the long downward spiral of a once-loved Australian icon.

Peter Fray

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