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Corporate power – customer powerless

The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry revealed very clearly a major flaw in the Corporations Act.

The prime duty of the directors of a corporate body is to act in the best interests of shareholders, which, by implication means to maximise the profits for shareholders.

Nowhere is there any clear inference that, if the corporation provides a service to members of the public, its actions ought also to be directed to avoiding harm to the receiver of those services. Other legislation might well be invoked in those circumstances, but, in general, the corporations attention is firmly directed towards benefiting the shareholders. And if those who use corporate services are dissatisfied, they have to find other legal means to obtain satisfaction.

There is a convoluted relationship between Qantas and Jetstar, since the latter also involves an Asian connection, in which Qantas is a part-shareholder, but, nevertheless, the common view would be that Jetstar is a budget airline, which, when operating in Australia and New Zealand, is fully owned by Qantas.

So – if Qantas wants to retain its generally good reputation in the aviation area, it needs to be more circumspect in its oversight of Jetstar’s operations.

Perhaps an individual example might better highlight the areas where that oversight is lacking.

My son-in-law – let’s call him John – took advantage of the fact that my daughter had to spend 10 days inter-state for a residential school, a requirement relating to online studies, so he decided to visit family in a different state for a longer period than he was usually able to do.

I am not going to get side-tracked here into the environmental issues involved in air travel, but from a purely financial perspective, both parties decided to fly by Jetstar rather than Qantas.

The day before John was due to depart, he was advised that his flight was cancelled and he was re-booked for the following day. This immediately shortened the length of his visit, and, while not welcome, was fortunately not disastrous.

On the date he was due to return, he arrived in good time at the airport, checked in, and received his boarding pass, providing him with the gate number from which he would be departing.

Most of us have experienced major air terminals, with multiple airlines putting out calls for passengers about flight arrivals and departures, and most of us tune out. Those of us no longer in the first flush of youth also have difficulty in hearing them anyway!

So, if a call was put out to say that John’s flight was now departing from a different gate, among all the ambient noise, it did not register.

However, when he arrived at the originally nominated gate, he was not told he was at the wrong gate! He was told that the flight that was now boarding was not his flight, but that it would be called for shortly. Again, if he was not at the right check out gate, and if there was call for him, it went unheard for the same reason.

Let’s be realistic. If you have been given official details of where you are supposed to be and when – would you be listening out for contradictory information? The onus should have been on advising staff at the originally nominated gate to personally direct passengers to the correct gate.

And the interesting thing is that he was only one of several passengers for that flight in the same situation!

Of course, when they later returned to the gate, they were told their flight had already departed.

Seeking to lodge a complaint, John was directed to a supervisor at the check-in area, but when he got there, the desk was closed and all staff had left!

In his wanderings around the terminal, he, fortuitously spotted his suitcase circulating In lonely isolation on the carousel, guarded by a security officer!

Now it is important to know that, not only is John slightly hard of hearing, but, in 2016, following a flu injection (with no clarification as to coincidence) John was seriously affected by Guillain Barre Syndrome. He had an extensive period in the ICU plus months of rehabilitation, but the permanent nerve damage he incurred has left him dependent on leg braces, and he hobbles rather than walking with full freedom of movement.

Highlighted here is the difference between being a legal entity and being a human being with legal rights and personal issues. The corporation does not feel pain or experience empathy – both common features of most human beings!

It is necessary that the people responsible for running the corporation should have a duty to recognise that the actions taken by the employees of the corporation take into account their impact on the human beings serviced by the corporation.

Elderly people may be deaf. People with a disability require suitable consideration. People from a non-English speaking background – although not relevant in this case history – also need consideration. Staff need to be properly trained and guided to maximise the satisfaction of those using the corporation’s services.

Hopefully John will be appropriately reimbursed for his expenses for the unnecessary overnight stay and have the automatic change of flight fee refunded, as the change was not his choice!

And – more importantly – the staff of Jetstar will be reminded that the people to whom they provide a service deserve proper consideration as human beings.


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  1. David Bruce

    I had a similar experience in Melbourne with Virgin where a gate change was made and the PA was not working.

    Fortunately, I was recharging my phone at the gate next to the revised departure gate and noticed passengers were boarding, so I checked the flight number. What a surprise to find it was my flight.

    After Alan Joyce grounded the Qantas fleet, I no longer fly Qantas nor Jetstar. Qantas used to be known as queer and nice types of airline stewards and the other one was chance it with Ansett. Political correctness is not my strong point.

    Most of the places I need to fly to now are serviced by Singapore, Cathay and Fiji

  2. Terence Mills

    The Banking Royal Commission called for the remuneration of mortgage brokers to be upfront : a one off fee rather that an undisclosed commission from the lender followed by an annual trailing commission for the life of the loan.

    Quite reasonable you might say but the mortgage brokers initiated a massive advertising blitz in the media and sent an army of lobbyists to Canberra.

    They won : the government backed down.

    How can that happen ?

  3. Bruce

    Terence, good question re the banking RC “They won : the government backed down. How can that happen ?”
    Had to think for about 1.5 seconds before the answer to your baffling question arrived. The answer is in the question, using the word ‘won’ assumes there was some kind of contest of ideas. The question is therefore based on a false premise. The Banking RC was a soap opera – the govt and banks were always on the same page. Follow the money.
    Govt, banks, lobbyists 1; Public 0.

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