Discouraged Australia: Can the Qantas brand come back after it loses the nation’s trust? | Qantas

“Give me back my slogan,” says veteran broadcaster Phillip Adams, after a somewhat swearing rant about Qantas.

The man now known as the voice of ABC radio’s Late Night Live was once an advertising executive with a client who was one of the world’s oldest airlines.

“I got the bill,” he says, “by offering the Spirit of Australia as a blood sacrifice.

“I suggested that would be the perfect slogan, and it was appropriate at the time. I had fond memories of the Darwin evacuation.”

The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services – the third oldest airline in the world – 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 advertisements over many years. years.

But within months, travelers have brutally turned against the airline as Qantas grapples with the legacy of the pandemic and the results of business decision-making.

When Australia closed its borders to most travelers – including in some cases its own citizens – during Covid, Qantas laid off thousands of employees, including baggage handlers, and outsourced the work.

Now the news and social media are full of horror stories of furious passengers whose suitcases have disappeared, who are stuck in perpetual security queues or who have been stranded when flights were cancelled.

Hi @Qantas you have left about 50% of flight QF157 from Melbourne to Auckland luggage and I would like to know where my bag is or status of the return? I called the Menzies Aviation as you said but it seems the message bank is full…

— Maddy (@whatdoesmjewdo) June 12, 2022

@G_Parker our flight out of Broome was canceled on Friday 15th July. Sat on the plane from 7pm to 11pm then we are told to disembark, no accommodation offer, qantas staff left and the terminal was closed. 200+ people left after 11pm to fend for themselves.

— Chris Hinchliffe (@ChrisHinch77) July 26, 2022

In June, Qantas had the highest flight cancellation rate of any Australian airline and – along with its budget sibling Jetstar – the lowest rate of on-time arrivals and departures.

In Adelaide, security scanners were flashing this week and bags were deliberately swapped between rows. In Canberra, people were pushed to the gates, then turned around and turned away.

For some it has been difficult and frustrating, but for others the problems at Qantas have had serious financial and career consequences.

Melbourne metal band Thornhill embarked on a 30-stop tour of the US earlier this month.

The band landed after a long flight from Perth via Sydney.

Not their luggage.

Guitarist Matt van Duppen says it was just confusing at first, but the confusion gave way to anger when Qantas didn’t help, until they went public on Twitter and television. They had to cancel shows, absorb the financial blow and abandon their fans as they tried to track down their gear.

“They have lost all their belongings,” says Van Duppen. “Our amps, our guitars, drum stuff, all our electronics, the stuff to power our ear monitors.

“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. He is sunny, but not optimistic.

The band lost revenue in show fees and merchandise sales, having already paid double the price for the last trip compared to the previous one.

“Qantas dropped the ball,” he says. “It’s a kick in the ass.”

Qantas is far from the only player in the airline industry struggling in current conditions, which include factors beyond its control, such as the skyrocketing cost of jet fuel, caused in part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But senior management, especially the high-profile chief executive, Alan Joyce, has come under fierce criticism.

7.50 am @qantas Melbourne Canberra flight departs at 9.10am. What a surprise.
New Aussie slang for late flights and lost bags.
“I’m late for the meeting, my flight was Joyced”.
“I need to buy some clothes – my bags have Joyced”.#auspol

— Dave Noonan (@DaveNoonanCFMEU) July 19, 2022

Construction union chief Dave Noonan coined the term “Joyced” for when things go wrong at Qantas, but he’s far from alone in emphasizing management responsibility.

Qantas raised $2 billion in taxpayer dollars during Covid and provided first-class bonuses to executives, while pilots and engineers fight for higher pay.

But regardless of what exactly went so wrong to destroy a national icon’s reputation in such a short time, it 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 his history as an aviation pioneer in the outback, and his periodic contributions amid national crises.

Born in 1920, it initially carried both mail and people, and for a while operated as a flying doctor’s office.

During World War II, it moved supplies and troops and evacuated people from danger zones.

In 1974, a Qantas Boeing 747 evacuated 674 people from Darwin in the wake of Cyclone Tracy, and in 2002 Qantas planes brought the injured home after the Bali bombings.

The airline’s reputation for safety was bolstered by the 1998 film Rain Man (famously never shown on Qantas flights), in which Raymond, Dustin Hoffman’s character, remarks that “Qantas never crashed.”

The national airline inspired deep, patriotic, loyal devotion, helping to explain the sense of pain, even betrayal, in response to the recent troubles.

Because it’s Qantas. The Spirit of Australia. Qantas is singing choirs in the outback. It’s the flying kangaroo. It’s Kylie and Hugh calling Australia home.

In mid-2021, when people were deeply exhausted by the pandemic but optimistic that some sort of end was in sight, Qantas ran a brand-new tearjerker ad.

There will be reunions and vacations and maskless hugs and foreign weddings, it promised, if everyone was vaccinated.

“I had a dream that I would just fly away,” Tones and I cooed. “One day we will all be together again,” Qantas promised.

“There’s so much emotion,” said Chris Baumann, an associate professor at Macquarie University.

“People remember Qantas from their childhood. There is a lot of attachment.”

Baumann, an economist and course director of the university’s marketing and media undergraduate program, says Qantas has a century of brand equity.

That build-up of affection and high expectations means that when Qantas fails, it hits hard. Baumann says that when people fly with Jetstar, they are just happy with a free cup of coffee. But at the national airline, the bar is much higher. When it fails, they don’t just feel disappointed; they feel betrayed.

“With these baggage issues, with flights being canceled … passengers will be forgiving when the weather is up,” he says.

“But if they think it’s at least partly due to mismanagement, they blame the brand they know.”

That historical equality, he says, also means that everything will become equal.

“People are upset at the moment,” but have short-term memories, he says. “They will book again in six months.”

Sit in @Qantas lounge now in Melbourne. Planes are delayed and canceled and tempers are definitely peaking here….not the best months for the brand! #Customer service

— Brad McMahon (@BradM_Optimum) July 21, 2022

Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier — who has worked for Jetstar — agrees that the current issues are a “blip.”

“The amazing thing about strong brands is how little the short term matters,” he says.

Individual grievances can be elevated through social media and then amplified through traditional media, he says, but that doesn’t reflect the broader sentiment.

“There are years of emotional investment” [in Qantas]”The current public relations issues Qantas has is based on over 100 years of being a really strong brand…this is a rift in the consumer psyche.”

Qantas apologized to travelers this week. In an interview on Sydney radio station 2GB, senior manager Andrew David admitted that the airline had let customers down.

“We are the flag carrier – people have high expectations of us, we have high expectations of ourselves – and it is clear that in recent months we have not delivered what we were doing pre-Covid,” he said.

In a separate statement earlier this month, he said some criticisms were justified, 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 the baggage handler. Qantas was now recruiting staff and canceling flights.

“As Covid and flu continue, there will be a few more bumps along the way,” he said.

“But in the coming weeks and months, flying will be as smooth as it used to be.”

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.

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