There is this morning no sign that anyone flying later today or over this holiday weekend to or from footy finals in Melbourne and Sydney, or with family on school holidays, is going to experience anything remotely as serious as the dire predictions that have been made by Qantas management or TWU members handling baggage or licensed engineers handling operational maintenance.

Qantas spokesperson Olivia Wirth has been on newscasts apologising for the chaos against a backdrop of a nearly-empty Sydney terminal.  TWU organisers have popped up in front of a normal looking Melbourne terminal a day after the worst rain storm in a 100 years created more delays to air travel than the peak of the Chilean volcanic ash crises in April and May.

In fact there is no direct action happening over the holiday weekend at this stage, apart from a licensed engineer stopwork meeting in Brisbane on Monday.

Maybe Qantas has botched the message. Behind the scenes it has taken extensive action to ensure that passengers, on what is normally the second or third busiest day for domestic travel, are kept informed about delays and rescheduling with so much success that it has averted the misery it keeps predicting in its public utterances.

Not even its influence on the Tourism and Transport Forum lobby has worked as planned. In what reads like pure desperation, the TTF’s CEO John Lee condemned today’s action for falling over the holiday weekend, which it didn’t, and said “No one wants a repeat of the 1989 pilots’ strike”, which is about as relevant a saying no one would want a repeat of the 1919 outbreak of  the Spanish flu either.

There are problems in air travel today for Qantas passengers. In the general scheme of Fridays, minor ones. The gap between the doom-laden rhetoric of management and the low-key actions of the unions doesn’t work for labour either. The points the pilots and engineers are trying to make about management’s offshoring strategies in terms of maintenance, and flight jobs and flight standards, are being totally lost in a non-event.

Stoppages by Customs, Immigration and Quarantine officials at international terminals are a separate matter not directed at Qantas, but at the federal government. The delays so far have failed to make arriving or departing through international terminals at Sydney and Melbourne anywhere near as bad as using Heathrow or LAX on a  normal day.

When it comes to using airports to make industrial points for either Qantas management, or its unions, Australia is hopelessly outclassed.

Peter Fray

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