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Qantas, Rain Man and the Virtual Airline

The list of sins is lengthy and growing with diseased relish. Australia’s first and for decades only international airline, Qantas, is looking rather tattered of late. Its reliability is becoming something of the past, its standing diminished in an age of diminished international carriers.

There was a time when taking a Qantas flight involved experiencing clean, solid goodness, with the softening effects of regular and, for the most part, reliable service. Nothing ever too flash, but reliable before finding your feet on chaotic ground.

Its minted reputation was enough to earn it a mention in Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, a 1988 production featuring a tormented Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) and his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Raymond, as cinematic history notes, was utterly enamoured with Qantas’s immaculate safety record. Various US airlines, with their documented crashes, could hardly match it. Raymond duly regales Charlie with a number of lethal examples. As Qantas did not fly out of Cincinnati, the car proved to be the only viable means of transport.

The current image of the airline is one of losses, be it in revenue, reputation and service. This year, with bruising revelation, Qantas found out that it was no longer considered the safest of the globe’s airlines. In rankings calibrated for an annual safety table by, which considers 385 carriers worldwide and their performance in terms of crashes, incident records, aircraft ages, operational innovation and COVID-19 protocols, the flying kangaroo barely figured. That top honour went – and here it must have hurt – to Air New Zealand.

Geoffrey Thomas, the editor-in-chief of the Australian website making such bold assertions was adamant that Air NZ had an “excellent incident record, number of cockpit innovations, pilot training and very low fleet age.” While Thomas sounds like a desperate geriatric examining a catwalk of fecund models, the overall sense of decline in Qantas is palpable.

The Qantas of today is not one of smooth reliable travel but indifference, disruption and disappointment. It features queues, chaos and disequilibrium, from passengers to the workplace. There are staffing problems (the taking of sick leave is regular), frequent cancellations, constant delays and instances of lost baggage.

The views of one Tom, as reported by the ABC, reveal the conditions that the airline is operating under. “There is no one to talk to and when you go to work you are basically on your own. It’s like we’re running a virtual airline.”

The new law of such a virtual airline is unpredictability. “Keeping to departure times has always been sacred in the airline industry. In the past we would be kept informed you will be 10 minutes late, 15 minutes late. Now you must pursue the information yourself and they may, or may not, know the answer.”

According to Tom, who has worked for three decades with the company, he had “never seen anything like it.” He cites a flight he so happened to board earlier this year, finding no drinking water onboard and an incomplete load sheet. (For the curious, the load sheet is essential in terms of weight and balance data, enabling the pilot to determine the load on the aircraft and how its distribution.)

The Australian Transport Workers’ Union has also roared its disapproval at the airline. In a 2020 report, the union notes the nastier side of the carrier’s sharp practice. QGS, a Qantas creation, is noted as being filled by part-time workers, with QGS contacts guaranteeing work to the value of only hours. The report also notes the sacking of 5,000 employees, only to have them replaced by 9,000 part-time workers employed through subsidiary outlets.

During the course of the pandemic, this predatory beast of the aviation industry received A$2 billion worth in Australian taxpayer funds. It is worth noting, on this score, that other airlines did not qualify, notably Virgin Australia, for the largesse of the Australian government. Qantas, with cocksure confidence, argued for its unique standing in the Australian aviation industry, boasting that it did not need a bailout. However, just on the off chance it did require help, it would have to receive A$4.2 billion as a proportional measure to what Virgin might receive, as its revenue at the time was three times that of Virgin’s.

This staggering inversion of the survival of the fittest argument has seen the airline disappoint with dreary consistency. Last month the company offered A$50 worth of vouchers, loyalty status extensions and lounge passes to frequent flyers by way of apology for the mess the airline had put customers in.

This meagre act of contrition is hardly likely to cover the diminished service customers have come to expect of an Australian carrier of such insufferable pride. It certainly meant less with a video message sent to frequent flyer members featuring chief executive Alan Joyce. “On behalf of the national carrier I want to apologise and assure you we are working hard to get back to our best,” the unconvincing CEO states, causing a residue of bile to form in any one caring to listen.

The Australian airline is hardly alone in this general malaise. Airlines across the globe are spluttering along, providing even worse services than what they provided before. Flights are fewer and, it follows, passengers. Keeping these air hulks in the skies is proving increasingly challenging. But shine has come off this particular Australian jewel, and it remains to be seen whether it is recoverable from the conundrum it, and its owners, find themselves in.


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  1. New England Cocky

    Paddy Airlines has an expensive executive salary item when compared to the profitability of the once national common property QANTAS.

    Between 2009 and 2022 QANTAS LOSSES amounted to OVER $3 BILLION while the CEO received over $104 MILLION for destroying one of Australia’s former great corporations.

    Winged again: latest chapter of Alan Joyce’s ruinous reign at Qantas laid bare

  2. A Commentator

    It’s always interesting to observe the fixation the left has with Qantas (and Alan Joyce)
    Probably because Joyce had the courage to take on a couple of chain dragging unions a decade ago, and win.
    What people generally fail to recognise are facts –
    * Qantas is (I recall) Australia’s largest employer of apprentices, and technical, trades and engineering skills
    * It continues to employ tens of thousands of Australians, most are unionised and are on wages well in excess of the award
    * Qantas does not seek employment arrangements that are unusual in the aviation industry, and which are tolerated or agreed by unions in Virgin
    * With the loss of the manufacturing industries in Australia, it’s odd that so many try to undermine one of the last technical and engineering industries in the country
    …by the way, out of 250 commercial airlines in the world (and 150 international), Qantas is always in the top half dozen, and was ranked 4th in the most recent survey

  3. Claudio Pompili

    Nationalise it

  4. Abbie

    The difference between Privatisation and Nation held ownership is there right in the pocket of an Irish millionaire.

    Outsourcing, contracted, part time and easily dismissed workers is no way to run anything let alone an Australian icon of the Air and safety history.

    From baggage handlers to aircraft maintenance the work force has been damned by a hundred cuts and an attitude of “us and them” by those who put Profit before People.
    Damn and blast the snotty nosed shareholders, board members and especially the embarrassing Irish git with his hand out forever.

    Vale QANTAS.
    Nationalise it or change the name!

  5. Adrian

    “….and it remains to be seen whether it is recoverable from the conundrum it, and its owners, find themselves in.”

    They’ll need to rid theselves of that idiot Joyce if they are to have any chance!

  6. Roswell

    If I were off overseas I’d rather row a boat than fly Qantas.

    They tie with American Airlines and Delta as the worst airlines I’ve flown with (closely followed by Lufthansa).

  7. paul walter

    To think the ALP wants to give people like Alan Joyce and Lachlan Murdoch tax cuts, but continues Morrisons persecution of people having to seek welfare?

  8. paul walter

    The only “airplane” Joyce could have any relation towould be, Jefferson Airplane, ten miles high.

    Abbie, well-spoken, but the Commentator is a lost cause.

  9. tess lawrence

    Onya Binoy! Love your work, cobber. You’ve nailed it.

  10. len

    Qantas is going down thanks to their illegal mandates of you know what. Air NZ didn’t mandate, their pilots are free to fly without getting jabbed. Ex-QF pilot Graham Hood is onto what is happening as anyone who has viewed his series Doctors with Voices will know. Aussie corporates involved in illegal mandates are probably sweating bullets if they have been watching presentations at the Covid Inquiry 2.0 hosted by amongst others Senator Mal Roberts. Julian Gilespie’s (barrister) response is compulsory viewing by all doctors still employed in preparation for the law suits heading their way in the not too distant future. AHPRA & TGA are toast.

  11. Barry Sullivan

    AC: “It’s always interesting to observe the fixation the left has…”

    The left is not a group of people. The left refers to a direction which has been accorded fixed political connotations. So does the right with its opposite connotations. They are directions not collectives. That is why there is confusion when people who have been labelled as belonging to the left move to the right. People are not left or right, It is the political aspiration that is identified as left or right. The aspiration never changes direction. People do.

    You can move to the left in pursuit of equal rights for all, or you can move to the right in pursuit of restricting privileges to a limited favoured few. The directions are fixed, but you can change your direction. That may discredit you but it does not discredit the aspiration which is not addressed or critically assessed.
    I write this to point out that people who refer to the left or the right with the purpose of discrediting a political aspiration because of the behaviour of some people they have associated with being left or right are not in anyway discrediting the aspiration, just the people who no longer move toward that aspiration.

    You can choose to move to the right, but it is is very hard to morally justify your reason without appealing to the will of a non-existent divine cosmic authority that demands unfairness. Whereas moving to the left is much, much easier to morally justify even in precise detail.

  12. Phil Pryor

    Barry S. you waste time and effort on a bone skulled bore who suppresses truth and facts with vigour, uses proganda with relish, selects, fillets, distorts, suppresses and ignores to suit a narrow approach, and, for WHAT? As Morrison and Trump and Joyce, B and A illustrate, lying is a self romancing drive to achieve some notice, pose, recognition, attention, by any rotten means. Joyce A of QANTAS is a maggot, a bloodsuckkng, money aware primitive and a business DUD. We have (regrettably, by turdy Morrison) given him free money and lost it. Shares are up and we get nothing back for unsecured support, much of it wasted. Dogshit…neither left nor right, but, like an astronaut’s discharged turd, floating in space, gloriously alone

  13. A Commentator

    I note that no one has addressed a single point I made.

  14. Roswell

    A Commentator,

    I note you haven’t addressed a single point in the article.

  15. A Commentator

    Perhaps the difference is that several people have referred to me without addressing any of the points I made.
    You may not have noticed.
    And I think my comments were entirely relevant to the post, they provide factual context and balance to the negativity.

  16. Roswell

    You’re so righteous. It’s predictably boring.

    I won’t be bothering to converse with you.

  17. A Commentator

    That’s fine
    No one is required to reply

  18. wam

    It is easy to criticise a little irish prick.
    For at least 50 years we have been TAA/qantas flyers because Qantas has the convenience of daylight departure times for which we pay top dollar but for the last two years qantas has not flown from my town to my daughter’s city.
    There is neither entertainment nor wifi.
    Qantas has lost its appeal against a Federal Court decision that found the outsourcing of about 2,000 ground crew workers was illegal.
    The chief executive’s 2020 salary amounted to $1.98 million as 8,500 airline staff were laid off over the course of the pandemic but unlike the pollies he took a considerable cut from the $10m 2019

  19. A Commentator

    There’s 2 points to make about the above
    1. Qantas is a commercial airline, it is under no obligation to schedule services according to individual convenience .
    2. Most people know that the Federal Court can be a lottery. I suspect Qantas and the TWU always knew these decisions would be appealed
    3. Airline trades are highly sought after, no one that has completed a Qantas apprenticeship will struggle to find employment

  20. wam

    Perhaps you missed my point? Qantas used to charge extra for their service and I paid for the service. Now they still charge extra but use a qantas owned subsidiary which doesn’t provide the qantas service. With no alternative take it or leave it.
    ps Qantas still flies to other capital cities and I can catch a qantas plane drw-crns-bris-syd-mlb-perth and then from there to adelaide.
    That is a commercial rort that fits the CSO’s methodology
    The Federal Court has on two occasions ruled the outsourcing decision illegal’ but qantas will risk the high court for another pile of cash???

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