By Michael Mangano
Easter Travel Overloads Australian Aviation
This year’s Easter weekend has seen Australian airports and airlines struggle to manage the highest amount of passengers some airports have seen in over two years. News outlets across the country have been sharing footage of lines extending outside terminals as over 250,000 passengers made their ways through Australia’s major airports on April 14 alone, with Thursday representing just the start of the expected vacation period.
Although a positive sign for Australia’s tourism industry, which has faced two years of economic downturn during Australia’s Covid-19 lockdowns, passengers were far from happy with overloaded customer services. Long waiting times have resulted in airports requesting passengers arrive at least two hours earlier than normal, with security companies desperate to fill rosters and even corporate staff being called in to help.
Staff Shortages A Major Factor
The record amount of passengers moving through airports this weekend have revealed one major shortcoming in Australia’s aviation industry — there simply aren’t enough staff to handle passengers. It’s the most obvious of many teething issues as Australian airlines emerge from the long, Covid-19-induced hibernation of the aviation sector.
Extreme measures have been implemented to maintain security staff at Sydney Airport. Security company Certis has announced it will pay bonuses of 1,000 Australian dollars ($739) for security guards willing to work every rostered shift between April 14 to April 26. The incentive has caused the United Workers’ Union to voice concern that such an arrangement will lead to a Covid-19 explosion, since the requirements for positive cases in Sydney still include seven days of isolation, along with other close contacts.
Airline staff shortages have also added to passenger anger. Qantas flight QF616 from Melbourne to Brisbane was entirely void of luggage, owing to lack of staff. In a statement released by Qantas, the airline stated, “A small number of flights have departed without baggage in recent days. Decisions were made to have these flights depart without baggage to ensure that customers could get to their destination and not face long flight delays or cancellations.”
The statement added, “Qantas will operate a flight this afternoon carrying only baggage (no passengers) between Melbourne and Sydney with one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners, helping move baggage that was unable to be carried yesterday.” Despite the plans, many passengers have still found themselves without baggage.
These issues were exasperated by Transport Workers’ Union claims that Qantas’ outsourcing of baggage handling roles has led to a panicked response by the airline. Qantas has denied the outsourcing is the cause of disruptions, despite 200 of its own corporate staff being called in to assist passengers.
Into the Spotlight
Qantas has been under increased pressure of late, with consumer advocacy group Choice formally lodging a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over its flight credit policy, which Choice describes as, “potentially misleading and deceptive conduct.”
It comes as the ACCC finalized a three-year long investigation into Qantas’ purchase of a 19.9% stake in Brisbane-based airline Alliance Airlines, which led to no action taken by the consumer watchdog. This recent investigation, along with Qantas’ call centre issues where customers wait hours at a time only to be disconnected, brings Qantas further into the spotlight of public criticism.
The credit policies in place mean passengers were are unable to use credits for flights cheaper than the original, requiring customers to pay more money for airfares despite Qantas holding their previous payments.
Choice explained: “If you have a $500 credit for a Sydney to Melbourne flight and the price is now $475, you wouldn’t be able to use the credit, even if you waived the $25 loss. Instead, you’d have to buy a new ticket and leave your credit untouched.”
The ACCC has invited customers to engage in a consultation, stating: “In particular, we’re interested if the available fare prices for flights are higher when you try to book using your flight credit than when you try to book using other forms of payment (such as cash or credit card) on Qantas’ website.”
The statement follows investigations by Australian media corporation Channel 9 and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation into alleged price gouging. The ABC stated that evidence suggests prices were increased when a customer wished to use flight credits.
Last week, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce backtracked over comments he made after suggesting passengers were not “match fit” for flying. Paying passengers have been using social media to vent their negative experiences and anger over perceived lack of customer care and accountability.
The airline did not respond immediately to Airline Geeks’ request for comment.