Qantas is just embarking on a corporate cost-cutting exercise so morale is bound to be low. It has been trying to cut costs for years but, despite a relative boom in Australia, its finances remain dire. Moody’s has just slashed the airline’s credit rating by two notches to junk status, and swingeing job cuts are just around the corner. It cannot be a very happy place to work at the moment, and it is only natural that the passenger experience will suffer as a result.
You will probably have read the story about a Qantas 767 being turned back as it was taxiing because of suspicions the Captain had been drinking. According to reports, the cabin crew were concered about the Captain’s behaviour, called the Operations Manager, the aircraft was ordered back to the stand and the Captain stood down from the flight.
Whilst one must wonder why the First Officer did not do anything, it was good that the cabin crew were able to raise the alarm. They called the airline’s Operation Centre in the full knowledge that, unless the call was entirely malicious, they would not face any disciplinary issue over delaying the flight. Qantas has a very strong safety culture which, like any well-run airline, encourages staff to voice any concerns they have about the operation. It also has strong unions.
In June, Turkish Airlines sent text messages sacking 345 staff (including pilots, cabin crew and engineers) for stopping work in protest against a law to make strikes at the airline illegal.
Turkish Airlines has been condemned around the world for its action and the International Transport Workers’ Federation has arranged protests in a number of capitals and is still trying to negotiate with the airline and the Turkish government.
No one likes airline strikes. Some unions, including those at Qantas, have shown a marked reluctance to move with the times but it is surely safer to fly with an airline where employees feel confident they will be protected when they have concerns about safety than with an airline that wants to ban strikes and will summarily dismiss anyone who attempts to protest.
Vicious, dishonest unions with their minds in a 1970′s time-warp versus a management with little integrity or competence all whipped up to a frenzy by a press that makes British tabloids appear the gold standard of responsible journalism.
Australia has got what it deserves.
This is a fight I would like both sides to lose.
Sadly, the only likely losers are the many decent staff at Qantas and the travelling public.
At the moment, there is nothing to suggest that Qantas is in any way to blame for the incident with its A380 aircraft. However, this has not stopped the Qantas engineer’s union making some fairly vitriolic remarks to the press about standards at Qantas. It is stretching the imagination to breaking point to see any connection between a minor dispute involving engineers on regional aircraft and an engine blow-out on the A380. Unfortunately that is not much of a challenge to the engineers’ union. Using a mixture of innuendo, veiled remarks about outsourcing and under-staffing, they have created a connection that is strong enough to make its way into the Australian press – and there is nothing an Australian newspaper likes more than knocking a large Australian institution.
Once again, it is silly season in Australia for “safety news” on Qantas. If an aircraft has to wait on the ground for ten minutes for a windscreen-wiper blade to be replaced, the story can end up in the tabloid press as “yet another aircraft grounded for safety checks by crisis-hit Qantas”.
The engineers have been fighting with Qantas for years and not only do they seem happy to drag their employer’s name through the dirt, they don’t seem to care much about their own reputation either. We are all in favour of whistle-blowing on safety matters by unions but the Qantas engineers have blown the whistle on so many occasions, no one sensible will take any notice of them now – even if they have a genuine case. They would gain more respect if they stood by the company and their own professional standards.
Despite this blog’s consistent evangelism for the future of First-class, news from Down Under suggests our confidence may be misplaced. This Qantas press release reports that the airline is to start removing first class cabins from its B747-400s and installing business class flatbed seats as used in its A380s from the end of 2011. The first 12 A380s in the fleet will keep First-class, but those being delivered from 2012 will have only economy, premium economy, and business classes.
Why this move? Well the explanation given is on the wooly side, but the nub of it is, according to CEO Alan Joyce that
“While some travel markets are recovering from the economic crisis, our assessment of longer term travel trends, which pre-dates the economic crisis, shows that international premium travel demand is changing.”
Meaning: while routes to London and Los Angeles will continue to offer First-class, don’t expect it to survive on any of their other services.