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Qantas

07/11/2010

A Qantas A330-200 landing at Sydney's Kingsford Smith International Airport

Recently I have just got back to Papua after a 2 week holiday in New Zealand. Only six months after my last trip home it was of course a fantastic holiday and this time a little less hectic as I spent nearly all the time in Gisborne.

My preference is usually to fly with Singapore Airlines because they are just so good and I’m not too far off reaching silver status in their frequent flyer programme KrisFlyer. But when I was checking prices there were only the more expensive tickets available and they were quite expensive indeed. Qantas was significantly cheaper by US$500; problem is after my last trip with them I wasn’t too keen to fly with Qantas again.

Sometimes it does seem like Qantas really don’t want you to fly with them and in truth this could all be part of their strategy to shift the bulk of their business onto the low-cost carrier JetStar. One significant barrier to flying Qantas out of Indonesia is that when doing an online booking with a Credit Card you must show up to one of only three offices in Indonesia (Jakarta, Surabaya or Denpasar) to show your credit card before the payment is processed and ticket issued. This must be done within two days of booking so unless you happen to be in one of those three cities then it is near pointless attempting to book with Qantas. Fortunately last holiday I was in Jakarta for a few days, so given the huge price difference between Singapore Airlines and Qantas I decided to give them one more chance and go through with the booking.

Once I had completed the booking on the internet their site tells you the address of the Qantas Office so I copied down the address for the Jakarta one and headed there in a taxi. Of course as if to prove a point I got to the Menara Mandiri building in central Jakarta and after aimlessly walking around found a security counter where they told me that the office had moved some time ago to the Prudential Tower on Jalan Jenderal Sudirman. Fantastic I thought, would it not be too much trouble for Qantas to update their website? So flagging down another taxi I headed back south towards Prudential Tower in the direction I had come from after being at my bank on the same road. Thankfully being Idul Fitri the roads were not too congested so it wasn’t too long a trip in the taxi.

Finally up to the 20th floor of the Prudential Tower I was about to read the riot act to the Qantas staff about being such a crap airline until I entered the door to find it was merely a travel agency that dealt with reservations and bookings for British Airways, JetStar and Qantas. So I sat down with one of the agents and handed over my details and promptly processed the credit card for ticket payment.

Fast forward a month or so and the day had arrived to depart Jakarta for Auckland via Sydney. Qantas check-in at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is open 4 hours before departure which is handy and not so much of a trial now that airside facilities at the airport are slowly improving. Boarding was a little delayed but not too bad and once on-board it was apparent that the load factor was low (only around 140 people on an A330-300 aircraft with a 297 passenger capacity). Being in the middle section at the back of the aircraft where it tapers to 3 seats meant I was able to lift up the arm rests in flight and lie down in more comfortable sleeping position. With such a light load the service from the flight attendants was very good and a vast improvement on my last Qantas flight from Sydney to Jakarta.

Despite having a lot of room to sleep I wasn’t really able to much due to slowly clearing sinus problems that had blighted me the whole week prior. So I ended up watching a few movies on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. This was one of the older A330s but shares an entertainment system common with all of Qantas’ A330 aircraft. The screens are quite small and the system can take a while to load but it’s not too bad.

One very small gripe that may border on pedantic is that although Qantas has sported a revised livery and branding since the introduction of the A380 in 2008 their overall branding seems to be a bit confused when even in new material and products they are using the old style font, sometimes using a mix of old and new. Very minor, but it kind of speaks to the turmoil within what is acknowledged as one of the world’s oldest and prestigious airlines.

Arriving in Sydney on schedule there was a 2 hour transit between flights. I moved through the airside mall area and went to the boarding gate for the flight to Auckland. This flight was on one of the new 737-800s which are operated by JetConnect, a 100% owned Qantas subsidiary created to employ New Zealanders on salaries around 70% lower than their Australian counterparts. So add that as another good reason to dislike Qantas.

But despite being operated by my poor kiwi brethren it was a pleasant flight across the pond. The new 737 features a version of the new Panasonic IFE offering which has nice large touch-screens. The lunch served was an extremely tasty butter chicken and progressed a theme of very good food onboard the Qantas flights.

The return flights back ‘home’ to Indonesia were much the same, with the Auckland to Sydney flight this time aboard a newer A330-200. Again the Sydney to Jakarta flight had a low load factor with only around 140 passengers. I can’t help but think that the decision to block credit card authentication on their website when their subsidiary JetStar does not only helps to contribute to such low loads.

So, in summary I might actually fly Qantas again, they’ve moved on from the poor service and use of outdated 767s prone to breaking down on the Tasman routes. But, you only have too look at media reports to see that the last 2 years have not been kind to their public image. Their have been significant incidents that although they have sometimes fallen victim to some brutal sensationalism by the media do reveal some serious problems.

Qantas’ biggest problem is its own sister airline, JetStar. In the interests of the management ethos of cutting costs Qantas has slowly been gutted while JetStar continues to grow. Where it will end nobody knows but hopefully the recent A380 and 747 incidents will provoke some naval gazing by management at Qantas. Good Management is not just about cutting costs, it will eventually have a negative impact on safety as we are beginning to see. Long-term this has a negative effect on shareholder value, but surely their management is not so blinded by bonuses that they are unable to see this?

Armchair management lecture over.

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