Qantas’ brand is starting to falter

Industry-wide problems

When Qantas was contacted for this article, Qantas rightly pointed out that it was not the only carrier struggling with a post-pandemic increase in demand for flights – known as “revenge flights” – neither locally nor abroad.

We believe that our relationships with customers are stronger than one bad experience.

Stephanie Tully, Customer Manager at Qantas

Airlines in Europe and the United States have experienced similar problems as they struggle to close staff shortages. The Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has called on the British government to bring in the military to solve the chaos, while some American airlines have even replaced bus trips with short-haul flights.

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 the disease problems inflicted on “Spirit of Australia”?

Qantas chief executive Stephanie Tully admits the airline did not fit as well as it should have in April, with high employee absenteeism rates due to COVID-19 being the biggest surprise.

Tully says that Qantas has hired hundreds of new employees to close holes and worked to “flatten” the schedule throughout the day so as not to overcrowd the asphalt during high periods during the June holidays. Rhett Wyman

However, she believes the consequences are insignificant. “Qantas’ customer preference has not changed,” says Tully. “It is recoverable and the brand is in a very strong position, and many of the customers I have spoken to understand Qantas’ need to return from hibernation. But we must also deliver for them in the future.”

“Qantas is still one of the best brands. What we measure internally is brand trust and brand preference, and the two things have been resistant to what happened in April,” she adds.

Roy Morgan placed Qantas in sixth place in the ranking of its most trusted brands in March; Qantas was 15th on Brand Finance’s top 100 brands 2022 list; and it won the Trusted Brands’ 2022 airline award, the airline used to prove its position. These assessments were made before April.

Karl Treacher, Brand Institute CEO and Associate Professor at Griffith University, is more negative. Qantas was the fifth healthiest pre-virus in the institute’s 2019 National Reputation Health Report, but if the poll was taken today, Treacher says the airline “would not be among the top 50”.

“Expectations of brand relationships have increased significantly in the digital age and COVID-19 has accelerated it,” he says. “So if we do not get the expected level of service, it is now so much more outrageous.”

“I think there will be significant short-term and medium-term damage to the brand, and it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the end.”

Only 60 percent of Qantas flights arrived on time in April.

RepTrak Australia CEO Oliver Freedman does not think Qantas is a rumor in crisis despite some recent damage to the brand and reputation in April and May.

“It is fair to say that the reputation is still strong, but it has softened a bit during that time, and it is not surprising given that it has been a couple of tough months,” he says. “There is a certain misalignment of problems to Qantas. People do not really understand that the airport is responsible for long security lines.”

Nevertheless, Qantas will have to cancel extensive cancellations and delays if it is to stop the brand from suffering further. The pressure is on Qantas to quickly heal the wounds in April, as governments begin monitoring how often travel plans face disruption, as seen by new regulatory orders issued by the British government to their airlines this week.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has already quietly consulted consumers while looking more closely at complaints about Qantas’ travel credit policy. While the hearing is now closed, the ACCC did not have an update on the case when it was approached.

There is no excuse for the company’s mistakes, says Tully, and Qantas is working hard to ensure that it does not experience similar shocks during the upcoming school holidays in June.

“We feel very prepared, and it is our first focus to get this right. We know we have customers who do not have the experience they deserve or expect. We have to make it happen, so they have the confidence to fly with us. »

Tully says Qantas has hired hundreds of employees to close holes and worked to “flatten” its schedule throughout the day so as not to overcrowd the asphalt during high periods of the June holidays.

Qantas says it has also reduced average call center queues – sorted by frequent flyer status – to less than 30 minutes for regular customers, and less than five minutes for high-level loyalty members, after seeing the average balloon waiting time to hours in recent weeks.

Exhausted, overwhelmed staff

Asked why the airline was not prepared for these problems before the April rush, given that it took two years to hype the pent-up demand that would accompany the pandemic, Tully says Qantas was surprised by an extreme level of employee absenteeism such as demand and activity increased rapidly. About 18 percent of Qanta’s workforce was out with COVID-19 or isolated in early April.

– The absence hit much harder than we had planned. During the planning of the summit that is about to meet us now, we take these learnings into account, so we are match fit in June and July, she says. “We are already operating at pre-COVID-19 levels, and the corporate market is also back, so the escalation to this upcoming peak will be much less serious,” Tully adds.

But these promises will largely depend on tired and overwhelmed employees, who were already eroded during the pandemic, and who still hesitate from the chaos of previous months. Qantas fired nearly a third of its employees before the pandemic, which unions say has led to a significant loss of skills and experience.

The flight attendant association of Australia’s National Secretary, Teri O’Toole, says morale is seriously low and cabin crew regularly report sick or tired before shifts. «Flights are scarce with employees every day. Which hurts customers because there are fewer hands to serve them, says O’Toole.

Furthermore, Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas said Qantas had not replaced one of the 300 engineering workers it had lost during COVID-19.

“We are back near pre-COVID-19 flying levels, and not a licensed engineer has been replaced. This means there are not enough employees to operate the fleet. Ongoing delays will continue,” Purvinas said. tired, overworked and stressed. “

Qantas tried to ease the strain in April by hiring senior executives to help ground traders load aircraft with passenger luggage, but unions are skeptical about how far it went to solve the problems.

Tully says Qantas has the appropriate level of staff to run its schedule and will hire more workers as capacity grows. She is confident that Qantas will provide customers with the level of service expected during the school holidays in June and ask questions about the company’s ongoing strength and brand.

“Our relationships with our customers are not transactional, they are long-term relationships,” she says. “We believe our relationships with customers are stronger than one bad experience.”

Maybe they, like Stolzenberg, should reconsider in a year.