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Opinion – The risk of inconsistency

written by australianaviation.com.au | February 22, 2012

A380 VH-OQC. (Andrew McLaughlin

Qantas executives are quick to point out the main influences on the airline’s international business are mainly external ones – competing subsidised foreign airlines, rising fuel costs or delays in the delivery of new aircraft.

But these and many other risks are often beyond an airline’s control. Conversely, influences on the business such as  quality of cabin products, service standards, staff culture, fleet selection, routes and schedules are fully within an airline’s control. But it is here, in these core areas, where Qantas really appears to have dropped the ball.

Much already has been made of Qantas’s failure to adequately replace its 747-300 ‘classic’ and the early 747-400 fleet with a more efficient type such as the 777-300ER, so, as much as I love flying on the ‘Triple’, I would not presume to add to that debate with my comparatively uninformed opinion.

However, it is obvious that 15 A380s, regardless of their greater capacity, cannot effectively replace 30 or more 747s without the fleet shrinking and routes and frequencies diminishing. Witness Qantas’s withdrawal from the Bangkok-London route, and reduction of services to the UK, China and Japan in recent years.

I flew on an old Qantas 747-400 recently, flying QF5 from Sydney to Singapore for the airshow. My wife and I booked economy exit row seats for the reasonable fare of about $1000 return each.

VH-OJC over central Australia. (Andrew McLaughlin)

The aircraft, VH-OJC, was Qantas’s third 747-400. Delivered in 1989, it looked and felt every one of its 23 years and then some. The interior linings creaked and protested as we pressurised on climb out while the air-conditioning roared and hissed loudly.

The galley openings and carts nearby crashed and banged, the carpet around the galley and toilets was worn, the curtains between sections were torn and worn, the overhead bins were tiny, my seat was hard and crooked and wouldn’t spring back upright without assistance, the IFE/AVOD screen was small and was old and had few options, and the bathrooms were tight and dark and dirty. The saving grace was the crew in our section who were, quite simply, superb.


Our return flight five days later was on an A380 on QF32. The aircraft, VH-OQC, just over three years old, still had that ‘new car smell’ about it and was incredibly quiet and smooth compared to the 744. The seats were straight – although still too narrow for my large frame, the IFE/AVOD screen was twice the size of the 744 and the program choice was excellent and the overhead bins were huge and easier to reach. The negatives were the freezing air-conditioning, some of the flimsier plastic panels in the toilet were held on with duct tape and there were far too few toilets, and water was leaking from the refrigerated carts in the galley next to our seats on climb out. Who knows where that’ll end up?

VH-OQC at the gate at Singapore. (Andrew McLaughlin)

But the biggest disappointment was the A380’s cabin crew who, compared to the 744’s crew, were young and appeared mostly uninterested, despite continual efforts by the excellent CSM to perk them up. One of them told me he had been “poached” from domestic on a two-year contract and that this was only his second flight on the 380 but he already looked somewhat jaded.

I used to be loyal to Qantas – for its safety record, for the fact it is Australian and for the points I had steadily accumulated. But this time, I flew with the airline only because I was cashing in points for a business class seat for my father, who also came to the airshow. Otherwise, I would almost certainly have flown with Singapore Airlines.


The inconsistency of product and service on my two flights was profound. Such consistency across its fleet must surely be the most basic and yet highest priority for this once great airline, especially when faced with rapidly improving or pace-setting competitors such as Virgin Australia, Emirates, Etihad, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines.

Otherwise, I fear it is doomed.

Andrew McLaughlin

Comments (22)

  • Damian


    Yes I feel exactly the same…..Flying from London to Perth via Singapore was ok on the A380 to Singapore but awful from Singapore to Perth on a A330-200. The A330 had an older IFE and the controls for it were grubby. The whole plane smelt horrible on boarding and the toilets were extremely bad. The crew were fantastic on both flights.

    I just don’t understand why Qantas has not replaced it’s older planes and invested in newer equipment…I would definitely fly Singapore Airlines given an opportunity so there is a very good reason why Qantas is loosing market share.

  • Lee


    And this is exactly why QANTAS loses more and more customers. The customer service experience and the experience in the flying aluminium tube is woefully inconsistent (at best) and tired tired tired (at worst).

  • A.B


    Whats a 744? Don’t you mean 747?? The A380 cabin crew don’t earn the same money as the 747 cabin crew. They are on a different agreement. Pay peanuts you get monkeys…

  • stephen jones


    its all a plot to down grade qf longhaul so building up jetstar to sell? the more experienced crew are still flying on 747s because qf cut the conditions for a380 flying, not the crews fault!

  • Robertino


    I couldn’t agree more. I too was a loyal gold and lifetime qantas club member (which I rarely use) like you air NZ SQ and V have consistent cabins, staff, entertainment options and better food. Don’t feel bad about your comments. It’s just the cold hard truth. No more no less

  • Mark


    I agree 100% to the point where you get sick of talking about it and Qantas Management (namely Alan) not getting the bloody message. Cost cutting across the board is what Qantas is about. Qantas Club members are now not allowed to use the BA lounges at Heathrow Terminal 5 or most BA lounges within Europe due to limited access into terraces lounges only, the thing is most BA lounges in Europe are now galleries lounges. A simple negotiation from management could fix this issue for loyal Qantas/BA clients in a matter or a month or two… And they wonder why they continue to go backwards with market share. Time to pass the airline over to somebody with a better vision for the future Alan!!

  • Andy


    Also totally agree, Qantas has definitely dropped the ball on so many levels. I regularly fly Qantas for business and it astounds me how many of the aircraft vary completely in cabin interiors, IFE facilities, age, tiredness, cleanliness and cabin crew service levels. It has been several years since QF upgraded its livery to the new more modern roo and yet the majority of the fleet still bears the old logo. Demonstrates a further lack of interest. I think there must be at least three generations of cabin interiors in play internationally, the domestic interiors are drab grey and the service level varies to say the least. QF need to repaint the entire fleet, standardise their cabin interiors, modernise them (think new CX business product or Air NZ), train staff in exceptional customer service and update the fleet with more modern aircraft fast in order to remain relevant in a very tough market. Will certainly cost a considerable amount to complete, but it is an investment that is desperately needed.

  • T L


    I flew with Qantas on business class from Hong Kong to Melbourne. Mind mind the service is awlful as compare with Virgin Australia(V Australia) or Thai Airways. Entree was either duck soup or beef salad and i choose duck soup. To my surprised she took out a thernal fask from the trolley(same as the one that used to push in the econmy class area) and give it a shake and pour into a bowl in front of me. I would thought they will do it in the gallery and bring it out to serve. Wouldn’t be surprised they start to loose the market share at all…..

  • Sad But True


    Qantas A380 Cabin Crew are a seperate group to Qantas Mainline Cabin Crew with many employed very recently and few staying very long. This is the big issue of branding. People aren’t getting what they pay for. There have been massive fundamental changes to many things at Qantas anf guess what…it’s starting to become obvious. It’s not the fault of the staff — the selection and training methods have all been cut to the bone along with all the customer support items. Not enough staff to dispatch or receive aircraft (purposely rostered short), running out of food and drinks (purposely dispatched short) etc, etc. The very things that people loved about Qantas have been removed and all that’s left is the logo. The airline is being managed in to the ground.

  • Mal


    I am a Platinum QF flyer and a Gold Elite with Air NZ. QF have chronic inconsistency in staff and aircraft. NZ is excellent, happy motivated crew who appear genuinely interested. Try the new 777-300 ER’s. They are superb.

  • Brian


    I’ve been a platinum member for fifteen years (except for two years out in the wilderness as a gold member… sorry days indeed) and have been, and remain, as loyal a customer as an airline could ask for. In the late ninties I was taking more than 150 domestic flights a year, now I spend more time than anyone should travelling transpacific via Qantas cattle class.

    You are right about inconsistency and management near-sightedness as areas of concern for Qantas. But before I list those, I do believe that Qantas is EXCELLENT in terms of standards and relative quality-of-experience when it comes to domestic travel. Also, the Qantas Club network is first rate; anyone who has spent time in UK or US clubs knows that these pail in comparison.

    The 744s that I use to shuttle to and from LA (I have only scored one trip on an A380) are well beyond their use-by dates (especially in fitout). The IFE system is dodgy at best (I can’t remember a flight where the IFE hasnt failed at least once) and the screens are still the old 4:3 format which really is ancient. The legroom in cattle class is horrendous.

    Customer service is variable at best across all classes. In fact, I spent 13 memorable hours in business class a couple of years back where I was unfortunate enough to be sitting next to a morning TV show semi-celeb. I dont know what was more annoying: the complete lack of service I received; or the incessant sycophantic chatter as attendant after attendant flittered around the flame of celebrity. I think even he was getting tired of the over-service, I know I was.

    The worst problem.. on international flights many of the attendants appear to believe that customers are an annoyance. One that needs to be tolerated. It seems they believe that ‘service’ is a dirty word. You would think that would be easy to change…

  • Jimmy


    Damian, the A330 you flew on would not have been that old, if it was a -200 on international duties then I say max 4 years. If (more likley) a 300 series than max 8 years old. So not sure what your gripe is about replacing equipment based on the A330’s!

    And Mark, re your gripe about Lounge access in London, from all the discussions I’ve seen on the subject the sticking point seems to be BA. Not much Qantas can do if BA don’t want to play the game. Of course you can always find another airline where you can pay to get acces to another airlines lounge if you want. Oh yeah there aren’t any are there, except maybe AA who no doubt are in the same boat.

  • Kapo


    I’m quite surprised that your specialist aviation media site has totally overlooked that QF has committed to upgrade their 744 product to A380 level. QF management have realised this disparity in product only since 16th August 2011, they have “surprisingly” opted for the capital lite refurbishment rather spending on more efficient sustainable aircraft. The work is being done by Australian workers at Avalon, as of 1H12 2 x 744 aircraft have been upgraded. While they’re at it they should also get someone to look over the RB211 engines.

    That most airlines are retiring this aircraft from their fleets is quite another story.

  • Hi Kapo

    My comment was not that as a member of the specialist media, but as a paying passenger. I would suggest 95% of paying passengers who have the option to fly to Singapore on other airlines but choose Qantas wouldn’t be aware that an upgrade program is in place.

    I would also suggest that it is unlikely many of the older 744s – of which OJC is one – won’t be upgraded to the new standards, and will continue to soldier on as is until sold or until the 787s finally arrive at JQ and the A332s start coming back to mainline.



  • Saz


    The inconsistency really has to come down to the unfortunate delays to both the A380 and 787. This is highlighting the issue because many of those 747’s would be retiring by now. The reconfig on the 747s is great – the difference in product is substaintial and it is worth the investment, but not worth spending on the rest of the aircraft that will only be around for 2-3 years. My only beef is spending all the money on the lounges (where most travellers are not spending thier time) instead of the hard product. In saying that they have bills for new aircraft of $2b each year for the next couple of years so they are getting a lot of new aircraft to replace the old. You spend more time on the flight that at the airport internationally. As for the crew – they are always inconsistent. And yet I was more impressed with the 380 crew than the 747 crew recently so it is hit and miss. That is always the biggest criticism – they need to get rid of the people who clearly don’t want to be there and are just waiting for a redundancy payout.

  • QF Loyal


    First up – I am both a QF Gold FF, and a QF shareholder. Whilst I cannot imagine not flying Qantas in the future, I have to admit it’s getting harder and harder to sell its praises to my friends and colleagues. they are always taking great delight in informing me of their amazing experiences and superior product they receive when flying with Qantas’ rivals. I really feel Qantas has lost its way with regards to its basic deliverables to its customers. They need to get back to the basic fundamentals that caused our amazing brand loyalty in the first place. Profits are important, but if the current trend of non-investment in the customer experience continues then I really fear for the company bottom line in the future. This won’t be fixed by company issued press releases, the only thing that will fix this is the bums in the seats telling all their friends what a great experience they had flying on a QF.

  • Peter


    I could`nt agree more with what Mark said, quote; it`s time to pass the Airline over to someone with better vision for the future….!!, yes it`s time to go Alan Joyce you and the rest of the Board just are not interested in the future of Qantas or even improving the Qantas Brand, you have shown that time and time again and your only interest is lining filthy pockets…..! you continually rape the Airline for your own greedy gain, a 71% pay increase last year then just prior to Christmas a $600.000 share bonus, greed that`s all it is GREED, it`s beyond my comprehension how he is allowed to get away with it….??.

  • Chris


    This post results from poor management at QF over more than 10 years.
    One point not mentioned is most times you cannot get a QF flight even if you want to.
    SQ EK & company each offer almost three times the service as QF from Australia.
    Use some creative accounting claiming the international business runs at a loss.
    Add in poor aircraft/engine types purchased.
    Finally run QF into the ground while JQ gets new airframes first (787) and the picture is complete.
    No management vision.
    If these guys started QF back in the day, it would have collapsed before they got the NT added to the name.
    QANTAS will be history in 10 years but not for the reasons elaborated by the current management.

  • Jonathan


    The Irish man should go & his looting mates………..

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