Disheartened Australia: After losing the nation’s trust, can the Qantas brand bounce back? | Qantas
“Give me back my slogan,” said veteran broadcaster Phillip Adams, after a somewhat crude rant about Qantas.
The man who is now known as the voice of ABC radio’s Late Night Live was once a publicist, with a client that was one of the oldest airlines in the world.
“I got the account,” he says, “by offering the ‘Spirit of Australia’ as a blood sacrifice.
“I suggested that would be the perfect slogan, and at the time it was relevant. I had fond memories, dating back to the evacuation of Darwin.
Queensland and Northern Territory Air Services – the world’s third oldest airline – has long held a special place in the hearts of Australians, thanks to its reputation for safety and efficiency, and the emotional appeal of its advertising for many years.
But in just months, travelers have turned wildly on the airline as Qantas grapples with the legacy of the pandemic and the results of its corporate decision-making.
When Australia closed its borders to most travelers during Covid – including its own citizens in some cases – Qantas got rid of thousands of staff, including baggage handlers, and outsourced the work.
Today, the news and social media are filled with horror stories of furious passengers whose luggage has gone missing, who are stuck in eternal security queues, or who have been stranded when flights have been canceled. .
In June, Qantas had the highest flight cancellation rate of all Australian airlines and – along with its budget sibling Jetstar – the lowest rate of on-time arrivals and departures.
In Adelaide this week, security scanners were about to flash and bags were swapped between lines for no reason. In Canberra, people were shoved to the gates, then turned around and fired.
For some it has been inconvenient and frustrating, but for others Qantas’ problems have had serious financial and professional consequences.
Melbourne metal band Thornhill embarked on a 30-stop tour of the United States earlier this month.
The group landed after a long flight from Perth via Sydney.
Not their luggage.
Guitarist Matt van Duppen says at first it was just confusing, but the confusion gave way to anger when Qantas failed to help, until they went public on Twitter and on TV . They had to cancel shows, deal with the financial blow and leave their fans in the lurch as they tried to find their kit.
“They lost all the equipment,” says Van Duppen. “Our amps, our guitars, our drums, all of our electronics, everything that powers our headphones.
“No one on the phone could tell us where the bags were. We couldn’t play the first two shows, and we were very close to not playing the third.
Van Duppen is in San Francisco when Guardian Australia talks to him. It is sunny, but not sanguine.
The band lost revenue in show fees and merchandise sales, having already paid double the price for the last trip compared to the last.
“Qantas dropped the ball,” he says. “It’s a kick in the gut.”
Qantas is far from the only player in the airline industry struggling under current conditions, which include factors well beyond its control, such as the exorbitant cost of jet fuel caused in part by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
But senior management, and especially top-level chief executive Alan Joyce, have come under fierce criticism.
Construction union leader Dave Noonan coined the term ‘Joyced’, for when things go wrong at Qantas, but he is far from alone in pointing out management responsibility.
Qantas raised $2 billion in public funds during Covid and delivered first class premiums executives, while pilots and engineers fight for higher salaries.
But no matter exactly what has gone so wrong to smear the reputation of a national icon in such a short time, she faces an uphill battle to regain the trust of the Australian public. Can the Qantas brand be repaired?
“There is a lot of attachment”
Qantas has never been shy about sharing its history as a backcountry aviation pioneer and its periodic contributions amid national crises.
Born in 1920, it initially transported mail as well as people, and operated for a time as a flying doctor service.
During World War II, it transported supplies and troops and evacuated people from dangerous areas.
In 1974, a Qantas Boeing 747 evacuated 674 people from Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy, and in 2002 Qantas planes flew the injured home after the Bali bombings.
The airline’s reputation for safety was cemented by the 1998 film Rain Man (famous never shown on Qantas flights), in which Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond notes that “Qantas never crashed “.
The national airline has inspired deep, patriotic and loyal devotion, which helps explain the sense of hurt, even betrayal, in response to its recent troubles.
In the middle of 2021, when people were deeply exhausted by the pandemic but optimistic that some sort of end was in sight, Qantas released a tearful, brand-true advert.
There will be get-togethers and vacations and mask-free cuddling and overseas weddings, we promise, if everyone gets vaccinated.
“I dreamed I would fly away,” Tones and I sang. “One day we will all be together once again,” Qantas promised.
“There’s so much emotion,” says Chris Baumann, an associate professor at Macquarie University.
“People remember Qantas from childhood. There is a lot of attachment. »
Baumann, an economist and course director for the university’s Bachelor of Marketing and Media, says there’s a century of “brand equity” at Qantas.
This buildup of fondness and high expectations means that when Qantas fails, it hits hard. Baumann says when people fly Jetstars, they’re just happy to get a free coffee. But the bar is much higher with the national carrier. If they fail, they don’t just feel disappointed; they feel betrayed.
“With these issues with baggage, with canceled flights…passengers will be forgiving if it’s the weather,” he said.
“But if they think it’s at least partly down to poor management, they blame the brand they know.”
This historic fairness, he says, also means everything will balance out.
“People are upset in the moment,” but have short-term memories, he says. “In six months they will book again.”
Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier – who worked for Jetstar – agrees the current woes are a “blip”.
“The amazing thing about strong brands is how little the short term matters,” he says.
Social media allows individual complaints to be elevated and then amplified by mainstream media, he says, but that doesn’t reflect the broader sentiment.
“There are years of emotional investment [in Qantas],” he says. “The current PR issues that Qantas has are built on over 100 years of being a really strong brand…it’s a stain on the consumer psyche.”
Qantas issued an apology to travelers this week. In an interview on Sydney radio station 2GB, chief executive Andrew David acknowledged the airline had let customers down.
“We are the national carrier – people expect a lot from us, we have high expectations of ourselves – and clearly over the last few months we haven’t delivered what we were doing before Covid,” he said.
In a separate statement earlier this month, he said some of the criticism was fair, but some of the issues were global.
Restarting the airline after it was grounded by the pandemic was complex, he said. A tight labor market and rising Covid cases were the headwinds, not the outsourcing of baggage handlers. Qantas was now recruiting staff and cutting flights.
“Given that Covid and the flu will be ongoing, there will still be a few bumps along the way,” he said.
“But over the coming weeks and months, flight will become as smooth as before.”
Phillip Adams wants his slogan back. Customers want their bags back.
Qantas wants its reputation back, and only time will tell where it will land.