Qantas CEO Alan Joyce admits the airline has let down its passengers, and has promised to bring the airline “back to its best” while also offering a bevy of make-good measures to the airline’s 14 million frequent flyers.
“Over the past few months, too many of you have had flights delayed, flights cancelled and bags misplaced,” a sombre Joyce says in a video being sent to all Qantas Frequent Flyer members on Monday August 22.
"There are good reasons why, but when it comes to what you expect from Qantas, it’s not good enough.”
“On behalf of the national carrier, I want to apologise,” Joyce continues.
“We know what matters most though is that your next journey is a smooth one, and that’s why we’re focused on getting Qantas back to its best.”
Joyce is the latest executive to front up and own up to the airline’s ongoing issues, which have included hours-long telephone hold times for call centres, delayed and cancelled flights, lost bags and a litany of other woes that have beset the airline since earlier this year, especially as international travel rebounded, only to be met by chaos.
These saw Qantas stumbling into 2022 when it should have been be soaring, to take full advantage of surge in post-pandemic travel.
The airline’s ‘apology package’ offers a fistful of benefits including a 12 month status extension for all frequent flyers at Silver or above, a $50 flight discount e-voucher, complimentary lounge passes, “up to 50% more” points-based award seats and, for top-tier Platinum and Platinum One members, “a gift of free Qantas Points.”
Execs line up to own up
In April, Joyce issued an apology for extensive and excessive call centre waiting times, which saw many people on hold for hours when trying to reach a Qantas staffer to deal with flight cancellations, make changes to a booking or chase overdue refunds.
Joyce’s remarks followed a similar mea culpa from Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully, who she acknowledged the wait times were “not acceptable”. The airline has since whittled down those wait times by employing hundreds of new staff.
In July, it was the turn of Qantas Domestic and International CEO Andrew David, who said in a statement the airline is “absolutely not delivering the service that our customers expect.”
This followed Qantas chalking up Australia’s worst domestic flight-cancellation record in May, with scrapping 7.6% of its services – or one in 13 – scraped.
“The truth is that the difficulties we are facing now are because of Covid and flu related sickness, as well as an extremely tight labor market,” David explained, adding that the winter months would mean “a few more bumps along the way.”
The national airline has become a national punching bag for passengers as widespread travel disruptions and airport ordeals test their affection for one of the country’s biggest brands, with Joyce landing in the firing line of social media vitriol that’s intensifying with every canceled route and lost suitcase.
Customers are lashing out and accused him of being overzealous in shedding more than 8,000 jobs, leaving Qantas so short of manpower that it can’t function properly.
The Flying Kangaroo becomes a punching bag
The backlash comes as the global aviation industry struggles to cope with a rebound in travel demand after laying off staff to get through the pandemic with bare-bones operations.
While chaotic scenes at airports in the US and Europe have become commonplace, emotions are running particularly high for Australians who feel let down by Qantas.
It’s an ugly reversal of fortune for a company that carefully navigated Covid-19 and emerged in better financial shape than almost any other airline in the world.
But while lauded just over a year ago for bringing Australia’s iconic airline through the pandemic stronger than ever, Joyce has been knocked from his pedestal by its aftermath.
The challenges of restarting travel are overwhelming Qantas and threatening to tarnish the legacy of one of aviation’s longest-serving and highest-profile leaders.
Joyce won the devotion of shareholders by resurrecting Qantas twice in less than a decade through a series of ruthless job and spending cuts, and is perhaps the nearest thing in Australia to a celebrity CEO.
None of that seems to matter to passengers who’ve endured hours-long check-in queues, especially during peak holiday periods, or slept rough at foreign airports after flight delays.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg