Qantas- What a Tale!

3 September 2023

I used to fly Qantas.  I used to go on holidays to Europe in winter, having saved my pennies from my casual student job.  I went in winter because it was Uni holidays.  (They were the days when students could actually save while at uni, if they were super frugal, worked enough hours and did not care if they did not get credits).

When the Aussie-accent welcome was spoken on Qantas, it felt like home.  But Qantas became ever more expensive, and now is often double the budget carriers.  I have remained frugal on air fares, as you can stay a week longer overseas on the difference. If you are on the same plane with the same departure and arrival times, why pay a thousand dollars for slightly more legroom, slightly more attention and a slightly better meal?  And if it is a cheaper plane that does not crash, the flying times are also much the same.

I flew on Ryan Air around Europe when Alan Joyce was in charge. The tickets were cheap, but you paid to choose your seat, were encouraged to pay to go to the head of the queue, were hassled to buy lunch, duty-free and lottery tickets even when you got on board.  There was talk of having to pay to go to the on board dunny; I don’t know if it ever happened.  I was therefore worried when Joyce got control of Qantas. The Qantas’ safety record was based on maintenance well done in Australia. That was outsourced. The prices still rose, blamed on fuel prices of course. The staff were largely retrenched with COVID, but Qantas got a lot of jobseeker money that was not repaid.  After COVID, many middle class folks have wanted to have overseas trips or see relatives (including me) and have paid top dollar for tickets. There is a shortage of flights, presumably due to a lack of staff returning to the industry, but record profits.  Luckily I have never thought much of flight credits or bought tickets for non-existent flights; this last must be more luck than management.

Qatar did not get landing rights, almost certainly to protect Qantas profits, even though Qantas is no longer an Australian government airline and after various privatisations Australians own only 51% of it.  But we will all be paying more for this denial of competition .

I was also interested to read Joyce’s background. He was a mathematician who is very good at maximising the profit from various aviation-related sales. I guess this explains the optional extras on RyanAir and the crazy price gyrations even while you are logged on trying to buy a ticket.

Australia is something of a haven for powerful industries seeking monopolies or oligopoly powers. Sydney Airport was privatised by John Howard and his chief of staff, Max (the Axe) Moore –Wilton  left to manage the buying organisation, Macquarie Airport Corporation.  Airport charges rose massively. Some airlines could not afford this and stopped flying their routes. At the time I was living in Dunedin and Sydney-Dunedin was one of the routes discontinued, so instead of a 3 hour flight from $200,  I had to fly via either Christchurch or Brisbane at more than twice the cost with stopovers as long as 13 hrs.  A huge benefit to an Aussie corporation at huge cost to the flying public, and this is totally ongoing. Airports should be a service run on a cost-recovery basis.

It is time Australia got a competition policy that stopped the supernormal profits of oligopolies, which has made Australian companies so profitable compared to overseas companies doing similar jobs, which is leading to huge number of takeovers by foreign companies and Australians further losing ownership and control of our national assets.  This Qantas nonsense has to stop.