Australia’s summer holidays are set for yet more travel disruptions as flagship airline Qantas struggles to rebuild trust among workers and passengers.
And along with an expected increase in passenger numbers and looming industrial action, experts say the ‘flying kangaroo’ could be a victim of its own success.
Airports and airlines around the world have spent much of the year fielding criticism as the pressures of a recovering post-lockdown travel industry resulted in flight delays and cancellations, high rates of lost baggage, and security lines extending outside of terminals.
Qantas in particular has come under scrutiny, falling in global airline rankings as frustrated passengers take to social media to rail against the airline’s failings.
The airline’s staff is also lashing out, with more than 700 Qantas and Jetstar aircraft engineers voting to take industrial action as tensions escalate over pay disputes.
‘Premium service’ is history
Core to Qantas’ woes is the fact that it has struggled to entice enough staff to deal with high passenger volumes since borders reopened, after sacking at least 6000 workers at the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the beleaguered carrier resorted to asking 100 of its senior executives to volunteer as ground handlers for three months to combat labour shortages, and announced international layovers will now be a minimum of 90 minutes in an effort to reduce baggage loss.
Gui Lohmann, researcher at the Griffith Institute for Tourism, told The New Daily that while labour shortages are challenging airline and airport capacity worldwide, Qantas has been hit hard in Australia due to its previously sterling reputation.
‘‘Qantas has always been associated with premium service,’’ Mr Lohmann said.
‘‘So when the minimum standards are not met, which is bad enough in any part of the airline industry … it gets compromised even further.’’
Passengers aren’t the only ones tired of the airline’s issues, as Dr Lohmann said staff had lost trust in management, and vice versa.
Qantas woes compound
From Monday, engineers will be free to walk off the job for up to 12 hours at a time, and to refuse to work overtime in protest against the pay deal offered by Qantas, which includes a two-year wage freeze followed by a below-inflation 2 per cent annual increase accompanied by a $5000 one-off bonus.
Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association federal secretary Steve Purvinas told members on Wednesday that industrial action will initially only involve one-minute work stoppages in the hope of reaching a resolution with airlines before disrupting the public.
“Our members have endured stand-downs, and in most cases, years since a wage increase,” said Mr Purvinas when announcing the industrial action vote in late June.
Qantas engineering executive manager Scott McConnell on Wednesday said the decision to pursue industrial action was ‘‘disappointing’’.
‘‘The entire aviation sector is still recovering from the impact of COVID, and the threat of industrial action is the last thing travellers need,’’ Mr McConnell said.
Travel sector healing pains to continue
Following the chaos of the Easter and Queen’s Birthday travel periods, Australians hoping for a smoother experience over the summer holidays are likely destined for disappointment.
Dr Lohmann said while it’s difficult to predict when air travel will return to the easiness passengers ‘‘took for granted’’ pre-pandemic, the situation will get worse before it gets better.
‘‘It is a lot easier to stop the industry than to restart the industry,’’ he said.
The travel sector battles understaffing, but there is no end in sight for travel drama.
Gabby Walters, a University of Queensland associate professor in tourism, said the travel sector’s understaffing issues are compounded by the fact most jobs can’t be performed from home, and the slow return of migrants to the country.
‘‘We can’t just miraculously create more people,’’ she said.
‘‘There’ll be more disruption than there has been.’’
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