Publicity-wise, it’s hard to imagine it getting much worse than what Qantas has copped this week, courtesy of the annual CHOICE Awards, known affectionately as ‘The Shonkys’, followed by some sticky questions from the Transport Workers’ Union on the eve of today’s AGM.
“If there were ever a company that appeared deliberately to be going out of its way to win a Shonky Award, it’s Qantas,” writes the consumer advocate and watchdog CHOICE.
“The so-called Spirit of Australia, which has been a part of the national fabric for more than 100 years, has been a disappointment to customers since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.”
CHOICE has revealed that Qantas was the most complained about company by CHOICE readers and members in 2022. That’s courtesy of “delayed flights, tales of lost baggage and chaos at airports, and customer difficulties in using credits accumulated from travel cancellations during COVID lockdowns and restrictions”.
“Add to that call wait times stretching to up 50 minutes when you actually try to contact them, and…” in the words of CHOICE money and travel expert Jodi Bird, “What we’ve seen recently is Qantas taken down to the level of a budget airline.”
“The travel chaos at airports and cases of lost baggage have been well documented. They had the worst rates for flight delays, and their baggage handling has really been poor in the last year. People are still paying premium prices, but not getting premium service.”
CHOICE reports that in July this year, less than half of Qantas’ flights – 47.1 per cent – arrived on time. But late arrivals appears to be the least of your worries if you’re a customer. Actually getting somewhere appears to be the bigger challenge, particularly if you’re one of the Qantas or Jetstar customers who make up part of the whopping $1.4 billion in unused flight credits.
As the pandemic hit, Qantas told customers they were entitled to flight credits, but neglected to mention they were also entitled to flight refunds. But even worse, when you went to use the flight credit, Qantas made it virtually impossible to complete a transaction.
“Qantas didn’t state upfront that customers may be entitled to refunds.… Customers complained that the system wouldn’t let them book lower cost flights. Customers also reported that flights were costing more when paid for with a voucher than with other payment types.”
Qantas helped make it even harder for their customers by allowing wait times for calls to blow out to ridiculous levels.
Reports CHOICE: “We conducted a mystery shop of airline call centre wait times in September 2022, and found that people needing to get in touch with Qantas by phone would wait 21 minutes on average for their call to be answered, and up to 50 minutes.
“Although an improvement on 2021 wait times, Qantas still lagged behind competitor Virgin, whose customers waited an average of five minutes, and a maximum of 13 minutes.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is now investigating Qantas’ performance around flight credits, but has declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.
And reputationally-speaking, things don’t look like they’ll improve for Qantas anytime soon. Later today, they’re due to have an AGM, prompting the Transport Workers Union to stage a press conference at Sydney airport to remind people not only of the Shonky Awards ‘victory’, but to ask the questions the company should but probably won’t face at the AGM. Like, why did Qantas illegally outsource 2,000 ground handling jobs last year? And why is Qantas’ the first Australian company ever to be prosecuted by SafeWork Australia over treatment of an elected health and safety representative during the pandemic?
As McIntosh notes, “Why are we continuing to spend millions of dollars in legal fees when we should instead be looking to reinstate the illegally outsourced ground handlers, given the customer service performance of this airline?
“Why are the key personnel who made decisions to illegally outsource those workers been given bonuses?
“Why has the CEO, who has presided over one of the worst customer performances in this companies’ history, and an airline at its lowest reputational ebb, stand to get an $8.7 million pay package?”
All great questions, but unlikely to be asked let alone answered at Qantas’ AGM. Even so, you can watch a live recording of the press conference on the TWU’s Facebook page here.
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