Images of lines snaking around Melbourne Airport are cropping up all over the internet as school holidays begin in many parts of the country.
With 350,000 Australians preparing to fly with Qantas and Jetstar over the next four days, how will Alan Joyce’s airline cope with this foreseeable travel rush? If past experience is anything to go by, expect complete chaos at an airport near you.
We’ve been talking to the Crikey community about recent experiences with the national carrier, and their stories detail exactly how quickly an airline can go from beloved to disgraced. Many readers have been life-long Qantas travellers, but their recent experiences have prompted them to vow to never travel with the flying kangaroo again.
Sue Starfield wrote in about her son’s Qantas nightmare, ending her email by stating it’s “weirdly comforting to realise we are not alone” in her disappointment.
“For years I’ve been that loyal Qantas frequent flyer, accumulating miles and status points, looking forward to getting on to my Qantas flights, but [Joyce] is destroying a great airline and treating the public with total disdain,” she wrote.
John Honnet described how his daughter was on a work trip to Ballina when her flight had to return to Sydney due to mechanical problems. She was put on a flight that evening and her bags didn’t arrive — they’d gone to Albury. She was told the bags would arrive late that night and be dropped off at her hotel, an offer that was then rescinded.
With work training ahead of her, no clothes or toiletries on hand, and her training materials lost in the Ballina airport, she found herself driving to the airport from Lismore at 5am the next day so she could be showered, dressed and ready for work at 8.30am.
While Noel Harvey and his wife have been holidaying in Borneo for the past 10 days, their luggage has been having a holiday of its own — it’s yet to show up. “Despite numerous efforts, no one has any idea where our bags are,” Harvey said.
What’s also abundantly clear is that staff are bearing the brunt of traveller distress, despite passengers being aware they are not to blame.
Eli Greig wrote in about how a Melbourne > Perth> London flight quickly got changed to a Melbourne >Sydney >Darwin >London flight. Unsurprisingly, chaos ensued.
The first flight was delayed by two hours, there was no bus available to get them to the transfer to Darwin, the flight from Darwin was delayed for seven hours due to “fog in London”, and when they arrived in London their baggage was of course not there. It arrived four days later.
“All the Qantas flight staff and ground staff were great and diligently performed their roles under duress,” Greig wrote, but “Joyce is a tool.”
Aviation chaos is not just a Qantas thing. But …
It’s not just Qantas or Australian airports experiencing chaos. In Europe and the US as the summer holidays begin, travellers are experiencing excruciating waits at airports for check-in and baggage at major airports as staff face longer waiting times for security clearance to begin their training, meaning airports and airlines are woefully understaffed. London’s Heathrow in particular has been experiencing baggage chaos.
Speaking at a Leadership Matters breakfast hosted by The West Australian on Wednesday, Joyce brushed off the situation in Australia, saying things were much worse in Europe.
Of course, what Joyce didn’t acknowledge was that as Qantas’ CEO he has contributed significantly to the staffing issues, waging a war on his staff for the better part of a decade. As Bernard Keane wrote earlier this week, in 2011 Joyce shut down the airline rather than deal with engineers, pilots and transport workers and their unions. In the pandemic, he sacked 6000 workers, including almost 1700 baggage handlers. He is subsequently headed to the High Court to appeal a ruling by the Federal Court that outsourcing these peoples jobs was unlawful — potentially leaving the national carrier with a huge bill.
But the CEO was firm that Australia was ahead of the world, telling breakfast attendees that airline travel in Australia will be back to pre-COVID conditions in “weeks or months” but that “in Europe, it will be years to that level”.
According to Joyce, the airport queues and baggage snarls were an issue of focus at the recent International Air Transport Association conference, a conference held from June 19-21 in Doha, Qatar, that Joyce was presumably on his way to while hundreds of Qantas passengers were left sleeping on hard floors for 24 hours in Dallas.
Which brings us to another question: where is Joyce?
Where, oh where, is Alan Joyce?
While his customers wait in hours-long queues and make repeated unanswered calls to customer service about their lost luggage, and while his staff deal with distressed customers during peak travel times who can’t understand why the airline can’t do the basic job of getting them from point A to point B within a reasonable amount of time, where is Joyce?
We know he was at the Leadership Matters breakfast answering hard-hitting questions about why cheese and crackers have been scrapped from the menu, and why business-class flyers are drinking $24.99 bottles of wine, but when will he show his face to a less friendly audience and explain what’s going on?
We sure hope he’s having a good holiday — because so many of his customers are not.
If you’re travelling with Qantas this holiday, please send us your stories of screw-ups and debacles to email@example.com – accompanying pictures would be greatly appreciated! (Please include your full name in the email – stories may be published in future editions of Crikey, please note in your email if you do not want your story shared).