July 8, 2009

Speak to any Los Angeles taxi driver, Starbucks barista, hotel valet or Police Officer and they’ll tell you – Michael Jackson’s death is good for business.

America in recession  … What recession?

I counted at least 140 TV crews camped on risers outside the Los Angeles Staples Centre – that doesn’t include the scores of reporters, producers and technicians, all there to cover for the world MJ’s death.



The economics of death. One of the best stories around was that of an Australian couple from Wollongong. Sarah Varley and Jason Leussink were staying in a Sydney hotel last weekend celebrating Sarah’s 36th birthday, watching television in bed they entered the Jackson Memorial lottery online from an I-Phone. 30 hours later and last minute Qantas tickets, they were on their way to Los Angeles doing their bit to stimulate the U.S. Economy.

Since his death – Jackson’s albums have topped the music charts, generating millions for his estate and various record companies. Outside the Staples Centre Police Officers on overtime pay seemed to number as many fans – three thousand in all. The message of the day was  … “If you didn’t have a blue or gold wrist band – you weren’t getting close.” Four million dollars U.S. and counting was the last estimate to police and run the event.

Looking back, the Jackson Memorial Service was nice – not too flashy, dignified – the performers wanted to be there, not there to use it as a vehicle to be scene.



For all of Jackson’s unusual past behaviour and weirdness – the Memorial Service left you in the end with the impression of a man fiercely loved by his family, whose image had finally been restored post-child molestation allegations and hush money.

Like John F. Kennedy Jr in 1963 saluting the coffin of his assassinated President Father  … an image itched into history will be Michael Jackson 11 year old daughter Paris, telling the world  … “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father anyone could imagine and I just wanted to say I love him.” It made young Paris human – a normal little girl caught in an abnormal upbringing. One can only imagine the record executives hanging around the edges, hoping she can sing.

But in the end – my final impression of Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service was

'The Thin Blue Line'

'The Thin Blue Line'

watching a Mexican/American immigrant, a woman in her mid-30’s wandering around the media compound collection empty plastic water bottles. She would later cash them in for five cents each. As the taxi driver said – ‘Jackson death is good for business’.



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?