Contacted for this story, Qantas correctly pointed out that it was not the only carrier struggling with a post-pandemic surge in demand for air travel – known as “revenge travel” – whether locally or abroad.
We believe that our relationships with customers are stronger than a bad experience.
— Stephanie Tully, Qantas Customer Director
Airlines in Europe and the United States have faced similar problems as they struggle to fill staffing shortages. Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has urged the UK government to bring in the army to solve the chaos, while some American carriers have even replaced in bus journeys by airplanes on short trips.
But Qantas is Australia’s only full-service airline and carries the weight of 102 years of history. Customers expect good service from the company, so how much damage have start-up problems done to ‘the spirit of Australia’?
Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully admits the airline was not as fit as it should have been in April, with high staff absenteeism rates due to COVID-19 being the biggest surprise.
However, she believes that the consequences are negligible. “Customer preference for Qantas has not changed,” says Tully. “He’s salvageable and the brand is in a very strong position, and many customers I’ve spoken to understand Qantas’ need to come out of hibernation. But we also need to provide them with solutions moving forward. .
“Qantas is still one of the most successful brands. What we measure internally is brand trust and preference and both of those have held up to what happened in April,” she adds.
Roy Morgan placed Qantas sixth in its list of most trusted brands in March; Qantas was 15th on Brand Finance’s Top 100 Brands 2022 list; and it won the 2022 Airline Award from Trusted Brands, the carrier used to prove its position. These assessments were made before April.
Managing Director of the Brand Institute and Associate Professor at Griffith University Karl traitor is more negative. Qantas was the fifth healthiest pre-virus brand in the Institute’s 2019 National Reputation Health Report but, if the poll were conducted today, Treacher says the airline “wouldn’t be in the top 50”.
“Expectations around brand relationships have increased dramatically in the digital age and COVID-19 has accelerated that,” he says. “So if we’re not getting the expected level of service, now it’s so much more outrageous.”
“I think there will be substantial short to medium term damage to the brand and it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the end.”
Rep Trak Australia chief executive Oliver Freedman does not believe Qantas is a reputation in crisis despite some recent damage to its brand and reputation in April and May.
“It’s fair to say that the reputation is still strong, but it’s softened a bit over this time, and that’s not surprising considering it’s been a tough two months,” he says. . “There is a misattribution of the problems to Qantas. People don’t really understand that the airport is responsible for the long security lines.
Still, Qantas will need to end widespread cancellations and delays if it is to prevent the brand from further suffering. The pressure is on Qantas to quickly cauterize April injuries as governments begin to monitor how often travel plans are disrupted, as evidenced by new regulatory orders the UK government issued to their airlines this week aerial.
Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission has already quietly consulted with consumers as it scrutinizes complaints about Qantas’ travel credit policy. Although the consultation is now complete, the ACCC did not have an update on the matter when approached.
There’s no excuse for the company’s failures, Tully says, with Qantas working hard to ensure it doesn’t suffer similar shocks during the upcoming June school holidays.
“We feel really prepared, and it’s our #1 goal to get it right. We know we have customers who haven’t had the experience they deserve or expect. We need to get it right, so they have the confidence to fly with us.
Tully says Qantas has taken on hundreds of staff to fill the gaps and worked to “flatten” its schedule throughout the day so it doesn’t overcrowd the tarmac during the June holiday rush hour.
Qantas says it has also reduced average call center queues – categorized by frequent flyer status – to under 30 minutes for normal customers, and under five minutes for high-level loyal members after that the last few weeks have seen the average wait time climb to several hours.
Tired, overwhelmed staff
When asked why the airline was unprepared for these issues ahead of the April rush, given that it spent two years promoting the pent-up demand that would follow the pandemic, Tully says Qantas was caught off guard by an extreme level of staff absenteeism as demand and activity rapidly accelerated. Around 18% of the Qantas workforce was absent with COVID-19 or in isolation at the start of April.
“Absenteeism has hit much harder than we anticipated. When planning for the peak that is about to hit us now, we take those learnings into account, so we are in good shape in June and July,” she says. “We are already operating at pre-COVID-19 levels, and the enterprise market is also back, so the ramp-up to that next peak will be much less severe,” Tully adds,
But those promises will largely rest on a tired and overstretched staff, already drained during the pandemic and still reeling from the chaos of the previous months. Qantas sacked almost a third of its staff before the pandemic, which unions say has led to a significant drain of skills and experience.
Flight Attendant Association of Australia national secretary Teri O’Toole said morale was very low, with cabin crew regularly calling in sick or tired before shifts. “The flights are understaffed every day. Which hurts customers because there are fewer hands to serve them,” O’Toole says.
In addition, Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas said Qantas had failed to replace any of the 300 engineers it lost during COVID-19.
“We are back close to pre-COVID-19 flight levels and no licensed engineers have been replaced. This means that there are not enough personnel to maintain the fleet. Ongoing delays will continue,” Purvinas said. “Our members are tired, overworked and stressed.”
Qantas made efforts to lighten the load in April by bringing in management staff to help ground handlers load planes with passengers’ luggage, but unions are skeptical about the extent to which this has helped solve problems.
Tully says Qantas has the right level of staff to execute its schedule and will hire more workers as capacity increases. She is confident that Qantas will provide customers with the expected level of service during the June school holidays and answer any questions about its strength and brand.
“Our relationships with our clients are not transactional, they are long-term relationships,” she says. “We believe that our relationships with customers are stronger than a bad experience.”
Perhaps, like Stolzenberg, they should reevaluate in a year.
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