April 4, 2009

I’ve just joined the Qantas Club.

Not that airport haven from the tourist masses – but the Qantas Club joined by thousands of travellers delayed, inconvenienced, angered, frustrated by last Monday’s (30th March, 2009) three hour strike by Qantas baggage handlers.

'Up Up And Away ..'

'Up Up And Away ..'

Sure .. you’re always sympathetic to workers trying to get a better deal or support their efforts to highlight a safety concern – that’s until it effects you!

En-route to Los Angeles via Auckland from Sydney, QF 43 was delayed more than four hours taking off. No Worries .. I thought till I arrived in New Zealand and was told, I’d missed the LA connection and my alternatives were to fly back to Australia (Melbourne) and get a direct flight to LA early the next morning (21 hours travelling) or wait in Auckland a day and get an Air New Zealand flight. I chose the 24-hour wait.

'Pick a bag .. any bag!'

'Pick a bag .. any bag!'

Cueing to catch a bus to the Qantas paid hotel for the night, a guy and a girl on their honeymoon stated the obvious – ‘Why did they let us get on the flight out of Sydney if they knew we’d miss the connection?’ .. I’d asked a male staff member in the real ‘Qantas International Lounge’ – ‘I’ve got a connection in Auckland’ – he replied ‘they’ll sort it out when you get there’. As I said to the newly weds – ‘.. it was as if they wanted to get rid of us, so we become some else’s problem.’

A decent person, knowing you’d be inconvenienced further would have given the option of staying put and travelling the next day. But is not about being decent, it’s business.  

I’ve never considered the cost and flow on effect of an airline strike until yesterday. Chatting to the Auckland bus driver he said he’d driven – ‘more than 200 delayed passengers to hotels tonight’ around Auckland. There must have been at least a thousand others in a similar predicament and Qantas was picking up the tab.  

Checking in to the hotel (a three star joint), the newly wed was told he’d have to pay for a wireless connection in his room .. (it’s now that he lost the plot!). The sympathetic overwhelmed staff explained Qantas was paying the accommodation, dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant and a three-minute phone call! I didn’t argue about the 10 dollars NZ charge for the internet connection, realizing the girl behind the check-in counter had probably never travelled outside Auckland, didn’t understand the meaning ‘world global financial crisis’, ‘strikes’, ‘bikies’ or ‘airline cost cuts’.

Why were the baggage handlers striking anyway? The Union claims it was over security concerns ‘air-side’ following the bashing death of a Hells Angeles motorcycle club member in the domestic terminal. A week on from the alleged murder, it was impossible to push a trolley through the terminal without running into the heals of a gun on the hip ‘protective services officer’. It seemed like public relations over kill – where were they last week?

Looking beyond the waving banners and chants of the striking baggage handlers – I’d suggest the strike was also a warning to new Qantas CEO Alan Joyce .. ‘Expect public-financial pain if you play around with workers conditions’.



Former Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon oversaw a period of attempted financial change at the airline, basing crews overseas, outsourcing engineering and the failed attempt to sell a majority stake in Qantas. With an eye to the future and looking at the bottom line .. it’s not difficult to see why the Jetstar ‘wiz-kid’ Alan Joyce is now running Qantas.

As an airline traveller one has to put that tray table up and realise ‘it’s no longer a case of sit back and relax .. it’s business not service’ .. and if you have to be somewhere on time, leave a day ahead of schedule.

P.S. – Mr Joyce, I didn’t use the three-minute phone call. Can I get a credit on that to use the next time I’m delayed?