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Exclusive: Qantas crew sleep across seats in front of passengers

written by Hannah Dowling | April 20, 2022

New images obtained by Australian Aviation show how the cabin crew of a Qantas A330 were made to sleep across seats in the economy cabin alongside passengers, with a makeshift blanket overhead to block out the light.

The photos, which have been verified, were taken on a long haul flight from Brisbane to LA and come as the airline faces thousands of customer complaints over hours long call wait times and queues at airports.

Australian Aviation understands that the issue arose, in part, due to a mechanical problem that meant the lights in the cabin could not be dimmed at that time, which meant crew had to place blankets over the seats in order to shut out the light.

COVID-related supply issues also meant the privacy curtain, that would normally separate the resting crew from paying passengers on the flight, is yet to be delivered.

A render of what the crew rest area will look like on Qantas’ A330 fleet, once complete (Qantas)

In light of extending the range of its Airbus A330 fleet, Qantas has had to redesign the areas designated for its cabin crew to rest and take breaks while mid-flight, on all aircraft will utilise this extended range.

Generally, on the Airbus A330, the official crew rest areas are set aside for the four pilots onboard, while cabin crew are often assigned designated areas in the passenger cabin to take their breaks.

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While under standard A330 operations, crew can sit in a traditional economy seat during their break, under the A330’s extended range operations, aviation fatigue management rules dictate that crew are required to have a lie-flat option during their rest time onboard.

As such, crew are now provided mattresses to place over a bank of four economy seats, allowing them to lie down. Under normal circumstances, a privacy curtain would be installed around these seats.

In the meantime, crew will continue to take their breaks across the centre bank of economy seats, beside passengers.

Australian Aviation understands that this fact has contributed to ongoing tension between international cabin crew unions and Qantas, in a feud that has seen Qantas turn to its New Zealand-based crew to cover Australian flights, largely the Brisbane – Los Angeles route which uses the A330’s extended range.

This has been the case since the route launched on 1 April, Australian Aviation understands.

Just yesterday, Qantas blamed cabin crew unions as the reason it’s had to rely on overseas-based crew over its Australian workforce in recent weeks, while responding to rumours suggesting it is sending more Australian roles offshore.

Rumours began swirling early on Tuesday that Qantas has been using its UK and New Zealand-based crew on international flights in lieu of its Australian workforce, leaving many local workers on extended reserve rosters, in order to save cash. It was also suggested that the airline may soon be outsourcing part of its crew training functions to facilities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

However, Qantas has denied that it is sending more jobs overseas, or that any of these decisions were made based on cost.

Qantas has confirmed that it has relied largely on its New Zealand cabin crew to man some international services over recent weeks, however, the airline claims this is due to ongoing contract negotiations with its international cabin crew, which has seen both sides in stalemate. The airline also confirmed that it will conduct some training in the UAE, though denies that any roles will be outsourced.

“A small amount of flying is being done by New Zealand-based crew because the union was not prepared to support Australian-based crew working on longer routes with some of our A330 aircraft, including the Brisbane to Los Angeles route, on terms that we were able to agree to,” said Qantas executive manager cabin crew Rachel Yangoyan.

“We wanted to have our Australian-based crew do this flying, but without the union’s support for this to happen, we’ve instead had to use New Zealand-based crew on some of these flights.”

It comes after Qantas in January applied to the Fair Work Commission to have its international cabin crew enterprise agreement ripped up entirely due to “unworkable” rostering conditions coded into the existing EBA, which limit the types of aircraft that crew can operate on.

In response, Flight Attendants’ Association of Australia, which is responsible for negotiating the new EBA, said that the union has never had a problem with changing this aspect of the contract, however has taken issue with other parts of Qantas’ proposal.

The union earlier overwhelmingly rejected Qantas’ proposed EBA, with over 97 per cent of respondents voting “no” to the deal.

The airline also addressed crew training outsourcing rumours and stated that while it will be “temporarily” using overseas facilities in the United Arab Emirates, all training will be conducted by its existing Australian workforce.

“With Qantas’ crew training facilities set to reach capacity as we ramp up our operations, we’ll be temporarily using some additional overseas facilities in the UAE to help increase our training capacity,” Yangoyan said.

“These overseas facilities have specialised equipment that is essential to cabin crew training and all facilities available to us in Australia are at capacity.

“All of our training will be conducted by Qantas Group trainers the same as it is in Australia, we’re simply renting the building and equipment that allows us to get the training done in the timeframe we need.”

Comments (32)

  • Adrian P

    says:

    CASA should get involved in this, as aviation fatigue management is a safety issue.
    Also does the A330 extended range cabin design comply with the Safety in Design Act 2015 if failing to mitigate crew fatigue through in appropriate crew facilities.

    • Td

      says:

      CASA probably don’t know or chose not to know until it’s flagged, but the system the FAs use obviously has been used for some time. Maybe it’s because the crews involved don’t get adequate rest before their duty (an individual and company joint responsibility) which can be a major issue not only for them as individuals but as part of a team in progressing the flight safely and efficiently.

  • Ian

    says:

    If this is the way Qantas treat crew I’m not surprised they have “issues”. If you want an aircraft to fly that long provide an aircraft with a proper certified crew rest area not something dreamed up by “bodgit, bodgit and scarper” Shame on CASA for allowing this

    • Doug

      says:

      Let’s recognize CASA lives in fear of Qantas.
      This fear completely paralyses CASA’s ability to discharge it’s regulatory responsibility.
      It’s time for change at all levels of CASA.
      Let’s start with the head and make our way to the tail.

  • Rocket

    says:

    The Company has 14 Boeing 787-9s – what the hell are they using ill-suited A330s for this task for??
    Hate to say it, but some of those 747-438ERs might be handy right about now…….

      • Rocket

        says:

        OK. Thanks for the ’30 seconds of research’ comment but that wasn’t my point. The cost will be extraordinary if they have any sort of problem generated by fatigued crew – my point was the B789 is a long haul aeroplane with Crew Rest facilities inbuilt. A marginal increase in seat-mile cost is justifiable in this unusual environment.
        Based on 30 seconds of viewing the nominated source, the B789 is clearly more efficient on a long-haul route which is what this was.
        The A330-200/300 is a nearly 30 year old design, lacks the newer engines that the 787 family have so there is no way the A330 is more efficient on long haul flights requiring crew rest.

  • Colin Chilcott

    says:

    Staggering really. Qantas never wanted to utilise A330-200s on BNE-LAX route. Previously this route was serviced by B747-438s. The delayed deliveries of the remaining 3 x B787-9s and only 3 of 12 A380-800s in use means that in order to maintain required frequency the only choice was the A330. Poor planning.

  • Muzza

    says:

    I wonder how the resting crew are secured in turbulence?????

    • Vannus

      says:

      You’ve obviously never slept across 3 or 4 seats on an aircraft.

      You use the seat belts across yourself diagonally from seat to seat. Simples!

      Works very well, is comfortable, & secure even during turbulence.

      But not permitted during take-off, or landing for safety reasons’.

  • John

    says:

    Can you imagine having to take a sleep in front of your customers if you worked in a hotel, retail store or corporate office? It’s embarrassing and unprofessional to say the least!

    • Rocket

      says:

      True. But Hotels don’t generally operate at 40,000 feet AGL with pressurisation to about 10,000 feet and requiring a rest period due to fatigue.
      However, it is not a good look. I guess we should be glad that they are attempting to provide some solution for rest but taking the 787-9 off some domestic routes they have been flying and using them on this route would have been better.

    • Chris

      says:

      Exactly….!! Flying long haul ALWAYS require crewrest facilities – this is nothing new.
      It stinks of mismanagement….. Using the wrong tool for the wrong task…..

  • Michelle

    says:

    Disgraceful, the aircraft is not fit for purpose.

  • Jack

    says:

    If Qantas deems that crew rest adequate, let’s see Alan Joyce take a nap in there.

    • Graham Haxell

      says:

      Here here! Not likely to happen!

    • Rocket

      says:

      Yes. It’s kind of akin to the ex VA CEO (JB) insisting that Tech Crew can’t pax in J Class even when positioning to effect the operation of an aircraft – trans-continental – yet it was however essential that his backside be only positioned in a J/Class seat.

    • Leon

      says:

      Or the people that implemented the idea on a constant basis, as usual do as I say not as I do. Run by bean counters!

  • Mark

    says:

    What do the pilots do ? Sleep on the floor ? Nothing wrong with A330s but you’d think they’d have done a bit of planning/work before hand . Qantas have used the 332s across Pacific before so it’s not a “mystery” to them . Also must have been unpleasant for passengers , lights on for a twelve hour flight.

    • Rocket

      says:

      Read the article again Mark.
      Tech Crew have a rest facility provided. The curtain arrangement available for Cabin Crew, which seals off a portion of the Y/Class cabin for them to use as a Crew Rest area (similar to the arrangement that existed on QF 767s for a number of years for Tech Crew, has not been delivered due to Covid related supply problems.

  • Kevin Kluken

    says:

    I think Alan Joseph Joyce’s time has come…time to hand the baton to a new ‘conductor’. What sort of salary is he on? Maybe he’s lost sight of reality.

    • Alan Joyce has completly destroyed QANTAS our AUSTRALIAN airline , loyal casual flight attendants some have been with them for many many years are being pushed aside for cheaper casual flight attendants. He has no heart no sole. He collected his pot of gold, Time he went home.
      Pilots, casual and full time flight attendants, ground staff ,I,m sure will agree. I am none I am just a passenger trying to keep our beloved airline AUSTRALIAN.

  • meepa

    says:

    Thank God Alan can afford another 5m dollar McLaren, heavens forbid he would sacrifice conditions of his crews for any unethical pay-packet!

    Let’s not mention Qantas’s covid mandates, which are coercive, outdated and totally unethical…. wondering if they have worked out this is the main reason all the delays are happening?

  • Dave

    says:

    What is the point of this story?
    The other option is not to fly to LA and keep these crews on standdown. Everyone’s doing their best as we recover from the pandemic, but things won’t be perfectly normal for a littjecc be while yet

    • Doug

      says:

      Dave, NO everyone is NOT doing there best. What’s on display is managements pride and arrogance fails to recognize a problem exists.
      In a safety critical business, the obvious question becomes what else is being overlooked?

  • Lee

    says:

    Surely the company can zone off an are for proper capsules for the crew to sleep in, away from passengers. RE configure a group of aircraft for that route on those long sector’s. Crew have a tour of duty in excess of 16 hours so yes fatigue is big.

  • Doug

    says:

    Regrettably, Qantas continues to abuse it’s cabin crew.
    These photos reveals this truth.
    Additionally, using foreign labor is un Australian.
    Qantas no longer represents the heart and soul Australian culture.

  • Simon

    says:

    Very interesting article, considering the strange response I got from Qantas last week.

    Am travelling MEL-LAX return Premium economy and requested a bulkhead seat, which usually has a little extra legroom.

    Despite the fact that my flights are being operated by a 789, the response I got was “Sorry I was unable to help. These seats are sometimes used by cabin crew for rest breaks.

    This upcoming trip will be QF’s final chance to keep my business. Have taken 8 flights this year and all but 2 were either sub standard in terms of CS, and/or involved wasting many hours stuck in the phone to their horribly inept CS agents.

  • Neil

    says:

    I can’t believe what I am seeing!!Un believable why on a Airbus A330 on a long haul flight Qantas cannot supply a designated area for the flight crew to sleep away from the Passengers. No way to treat your staff Qantas!

  • Banati

    says:

    QANTAS
    QUICK AND NASTY TYPICAL AUSTRALIAN SERVICE..😅..HANG IT UP Alan joyce

  • Basile B

    says:

    That Airbus make a crew rest pod for the underfloor area, accessible through the cabin floor and QF won’t do it tell you all you need to know.

    Right Aircraft right route..

    The only growth in QF is executive remuneration

  • Andrew

    says:

    Send somebody down to Bunnings or Spotlight to buy some curtain rods and some non-flammable curtains – really not that hard to find a temp fix. Surely they could have found a local supplier to knock something up on the Janome and even get the bedazzler out to add some random rhinestone bling….. I get that some of this stuff needs to be safety certified, but why not even get some of those red blankets sewn together given they are flight certified.
    Could even borrow some of the beige curtains off the A380’s sitting idle.
    And they wonder why they have trouble with staff EBA negotiations.

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