Qantas has confirmed it intends to permanently close its staffed service and sales desks across all Australian airports and lounges.
The airline says the move is a reflection of both the impact of Covid-19 in forcing cost-savings across the business, as well as the shift by passengers towards the use of apps, self-service kiosks and bag drop facilities.
However, the move will leave travellers with fewer options when it comes to flight disruptions and cancellations, as well as when they need to make last-minute changes to their own itinerary.
As first reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, Qantas will keep its staffed check-in desks "but lost-baggage counter hours will be cut and all other services will be self-managed."
Enhancements to the Qantas app would make it easier for travellers to perform tasks often done at a service desk, such as changing their seat or paying for oversized baggage.
Staffed service desks at the Qantas Club and Qantas Business Lounges are also for the chop, in what will certainly take the shine off the premium travel experience for top-tier frequent flyers.
"The main driver is an increasing shift towards people using our app to check in and manage their own bookings, particularly as we expand what the app can do," remarked Phil Capps, Qantas' executive manager of product and service.
"This was happening before COVID but it has accelerated significantly since. Given that shift, we can’t ignore the efficiencies that come with removing the traditional sales desks, particularly in the current environment."
Qantas staff have been told that while service desks would be removed, "we will have a team available at the airport to support time sensitive flight management and exceptions.
"Self-service isn't full-service"
Adrian Franulovich, the owner of Sydney Apple service specialist MacMedic, strongly disagrees with Qantas' decision.
"The only reason you use a service counter is because something has happened that makes you change your plans, it's a situation where you're already stressed, probably with an emergency of sorts."
Franulovich recounts flying with Qantas earlier this year from New Zealand to Sydney via Brisbane, when he was taken ill before reaching Brisbane.
"I wasn’t meant to be flying back to Sydney until the following morning, but I went to the service desk at Brisbane and the staff could see I was physically and emotionally distressed, so they could make a decision to help me right away and got me onto a flight to Sydney that evening."
"Nobody goes to the service counter to have a chat, it's always full of travellers dealing with delayed or cancelled flights, or tight connections."
A long-term Qantas Platinum frequent flyer, Franulovich typically makes 45 Qantas flights in a single year, with around two-thirds of those between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.
"I fly with Qantas because I feel safe in certainty. If you're on already edge because of a cancelled flight or the need to change your plans at the airport or lounge, being on a long hold on the phone at one of the most stressful times in your day or week would have to make you question what benefits one airline provides over another and why you choose to pay its premium."
He also believes that removing the dedicated service desk from Qantas lounges will backfire on the airline, especially when dealing with "business travellers paying a huge amount for a flexible fare who need to change that booking."