Founded in 1920 in outback Queensland as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, Australia’s largest airline is the third oldest in the world (KLM the oldest, Avianca second oldest). The airline evolved through many incarnations until it emerged in the 1950’s as an Australian Government owned international carrier. In 1992 Qantas absorbed the domestic Australian Airlines and in 1993 the airline was privatised. In 2001 Qantas was handed almost 90% domestic market share when its chief rival, Ansett, collapsed. In 2007 a consortium led by Macquarie Bank failed in their controversial bid to acquire the company. Geoff Dixon, the airline’s antagonistic CEO would have profited $60 million from the transaction and he recommended ‘sell’. A rapid deterioration in the airline’s balance sheet preceded his replacement by the Irish born Jetstar boss, Alan Joyce, one of corporate Australia’s few openly gay CEO’s. Overseen by his mismanagment the airline has plunged into debt and is the laughing stock of global aviation. In October 2011 the Qantas board which then consisted of Australia's current Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove voted to ground the airline to intimidate its unionized workforce. This action pushed customers into the arms of better run airlines and cut 25% off the value of the airline. In 2013 Qantas formed a joint venture with Emirates from which it is hard to see how Qantas benefited. In early 2014 Joyce begged the government for cheap loans and in August the airline posted the biggest aviation loss in Australian history; $2.8 billion; a figure that is greater than the company's market capitalisation. Qantas' bonds have been relegated to junk status.
Qantas is notorious for providing inconsistent service which can range from terrific to terrible. It essentially depends on individual staff members crewing the flight. Older experienced crew can be fun and engaging or bored and indifferent. Younger staff are generally hired through an employment agency and often lack personality and seldom connect with customers. Qantas rarely considers non-English passengers and only provide one or two staff who speak the local language. Many flights will be staffed by mostly non-Australian crews on cheaper employment contracts which can shatter the Aussie ‘experience’.
The Australian flag carrier once boasted an extensive international and domestic network flying to many exotic destinations; however the airline has been in rapid retreat for over a decade. One by one, the airline has withdrawn from location after location usually replacing itself with its inferior subsidiary Jetstar and then codesharing on these flights. Disappointed passengers who book through Qantas are then compelled to travel on its no-frill subsidiary. Cutbacks in service and network have inevitably resulted in a loss of market share as Australians experiment with newer airlines offering superior service. The code-share deal with Emirates saw Qantas axe Frankfurt and shift most operations from Singapore to Dubai. Qantas' international network has shrunk to a skeleton.
Qantas seldom offers competitive fares and is usually priced mid range. Qantas rarely represents value for money in the face of cheaper fares by discount rivals and superior service by Asian and Middle Eastern carriers. Considering the averageness of the Qantas experience, they are overpriced. Round-the-world fares than include Qantas legs are best value, however most travellers will arrive at the airport expecting a Qantas flight and discover their flight number is actually for a Jetstar codeshare service. Australian travelers after a bargain are deserting Qantas particularly for China Southern which is making a determined effort to attract Australian passenger on routes to Europe and AirAsiaX and Scoot for shorter Asian trips. Australians who are prepared to pay for some luxury have replaced Qantas with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. Qantas typically never offer the best fares on any sector.
Qantas’ Q Catering department is capable of creating some truly amazing on-board culinary delights, however most of the time it is for other airlines they are contracted to cook for. Qantas’ deteriorating financial state and shrinking market share has led the airline to reduce the size and quality of meals and the airline charges for alcoholic drinks on some domestic flights. However passengers accustomed to flying on a budget are often pleasantly surprised by their free Qantas meal served by a smiling flight attendant. Its hard to believe their freshly perculated coffee isn't instant coffee.
Qantas’ entertainment is reasonable, if you speak English and either non-existent or token if you don’t. Their magazine is little more than a giant brochure for luxury goods with a route map (all in English) masquerading as news. It is difficult to find anything interesting to read in its often 100+ pages. The selection of movies is current and adequate as are their audio channels. Amazingly Qantas often provide no entertainment at all in the language of the flight destination, such as flights to French speaking Noumea.
Again Qantas’ ground service range from unbelievably good to unbelievably terrible. Occasionally passengers can wait literally hours to check-in, however shorter check-in times are more likely. Staff can range from bored old timers waiting for a redundancy package to playful and veracious. However, problems with baggage, tickets and check-in will be efficiently resolved in a helpful manner, including couriering missing bags home when found. Cancelled flights usually result in compensation and hotel accommodation organised efficiently.
Qantas’ PR likes to spruik their Premium credentials; however compared to industry leaders they are dull and uninspiring. According to Flight Global website, an unbiased barometer of airline performance, 70-90% of the travelling public are underwhelmed by Qantas’ new A380 Premium products. While Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad and others have gone for luxury in their premium offerings, Qantas’ designer Mark Newson has gone for a minimalist ‘industrial’ look which lacks warmth. There is very little difference between First and Business Class. Qantas’ toiletry packs show signs of economising with barely anything useful in their contents. The ONLY Australian element in Qantas’ designs is the kangaroo in the airlines logo. Qantas’ premium experience is totally disappointing compared to rivals who are deserting the airline in droves. Their Business C lass Qantas Club resembles a crowded cafe, however the First Class Lounges are chic, perhaps because they are run by Sofitel. In 2013 Qantas replaced its dull charcoal uniform for a different dull charcoal design.
Qantas provides a nice Economy Class product. Seats have extra space compared to their no frill competitors and passengers do not generally need to pay for anything on board. The actual interiors are a little bland, however are generally clean and tidy and passengers will not be made to feel like budget travelers and won’t be ignored by invisible crew. However on domestic routes Virgin Australia's rapidly improving product is usually better and cheaper than Qantas' and on international flights better choices exect on every route.
Qantas has an extensive and popular Frequent Flyer programme connected to One World airlines and a wide selection of travel industry partners. However the fact remains that each point is worth only 0.8 cents so a typical return flight between Australia and the US for example is worth around $15 in frequent flyer points. Redeeming flights can be tricky unless you plan to fly to unpopular destinations and book well in advance. Qantas steer frequent flyer redemptions toward their codeshare flights on Jetstar, disappointing most passengers.
Qantas has long sat on its hands and relied on its flag carrier status to win itself customers, however the travelling public have demonstrated their dissatisfaction by booking on other airlines offering a superior product. The upper echelon of the company is an old boys club, devoid of ideas, initiative or talent where promotion is based on ‘brown nosing’ and knowing the right people. Corruption thrives within the company at all levels and incompetence is no obstacle to promotion. Senior management despise the airline’s unionised staff and the airline suffers from an upstairs/downstairs culture. Ordinary business decisions are celebrated as landmark achievements by Qantas’ mediocre managers. Alan Joyce has been accused of ‘Jetstarizing’ Qantas and most aviation commentators now admit he was the wrong man for the job. The poor shape of the airlines balance sheet, which Alan Joyce's management team created, risks the very future of Qantas. Begging Emirates to rescue them was an admission of defeat. The danger is, once Qantas passengers taste the superior service on Emirates they will never want to go back.
In the 1988 movie Rain Man, the autistic character played by Dustin Hoffman claimed he would only fly Qantas because it had never had an accident. Qantas management knew this to be false but allowed the myth to evolve and develop. The airline has had numerous fatal accidents which have killed 65 passengers in its history, however none in the jet age. Since 2000 the airline has had a string of incredible near misses and barely a month goes by without the airline suffering a major incident. Clearly Qantas’ safety record is a matter of good luck more than anything else.
An all round average airline which generally meets expectations, but seldom exceeds them.
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