QANTAS: 23 hour Dallas Fort Worth flight delay causes passenger havoc and reputational damage
Social media has been exploding over a 23-hour delay of flight QF8, a Qantas Boeing 789 Dreamliner flying out of DFW to Sydney, originally scheduled for departure on Wednesday 15 June 2022 and carrying about 236 passengers plus crew. The flight suffered a 23-hour delay, departing on Thursday, but leaving passengers to largely fend for themselves in the meantime. Some passengers got hotels, while others unclear on entitlements slept in the airport.
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The initial delay was caused by an engineering issue according to Qantas, but as is common in these unscheduled delays, one problem rolled into another. The engineering issue extended longer than expected, which then meant the flights scheduled arrival in Sydney would violate the airport’s curfew (11 pm to 6 am). That led to a further delay, which then meant the crew would run out of on-duty time, resulting in a further delay.
Not uncommon, and not only Qantas
This sort of thing happens all the time to every airline. When it occurs on a domestic route – say Melbourne to Sydney, as happened to me a couple of weeks ago, it’s not a big issue. It might mean a few hours delay, a replacement aircraft, and a bit of harrumphing from disgruntled passengers, but we all ended up back in Sydney the same day.
The Problem at DFW
The issue at Dallas Fort Worth is related to the lack of Qantas coordinating staff. Online comments are scathing, and achieved particular public attention since one passenger was a journalist with The Guardian:
A delay of this magnitude is distressing for all passengers, but let’s remember that flights almost always contain passengers with disabilities, the elderly, and inexperienced travellers that need to be supported with information and explanations during such a delay.
Delays are also stressful for staff, whether onboard crew or airport-based service staff. They need to deal with complex arrangements for hundreds of passengers. Book hotels at no notice, arrange transport, and food vouchers, and liaise with management, engineering and personnel about rescheduling, and on it goes. But, this is what airlines do – and you would think there was a playbook for each destination that Qantas staff can follow, that accounts for most of the standard variables.
Qantas is usually a good communicator with its passengers. On domestic flights, the captain usually updates passengers on the situation regularly – more frequently than a lot of other airlines (I’m looking at you British Airways). But in this case, they were not, and it seems to be because of a lack of service staff at DFW, which is probably a cost-saving measure by Qantas:
Later in the thread Mr O’Brien says:
“Staff of course were doing their absolute best in awful circumstances last night, but there just aren’t any staff on the ground today to update/assist people stuck at the airport,”
The horror of all this is that passengers were not all booked into hotels, and were left to sleep in the airport, an adventure for some, but a severe inconvenience for others – think of the aged, disabled and infirmed.
Cost cutting hurts the reputation of Qantas
After the financial pain inflicted on all airlines by the pandemic, the industry is currently booming. Qantas is experiencing demand over 120% of pre-pandemic levels in the domestic market. You can’t get on a flight that isn’t full and prices are way high. Qatar Airways, celebrating its 25th year had the strongest financial performance to date with a net profit of US$1.54 billion for the 2021/22 period.
On the other hand, Qantas has scaled back its staff all over the place and is cancelling flights because it can’t find cabin crew or flight deck staff.
The balance Qantas usually maintains between financial responsibility and customer relations seems to have gone out the dimmable 787 windows! Whatever you think of Alan Joyce’s management – and some on social media are making outrageous personal, racist and homophobic attacks – he is financially adroit, often at a cost to his workers’ pay packets. His failing now is providing service to his customers, and once lost, that is a difficult thing to restore.
I am a self-confessed Qantas fanboy. However, even my allegiance is being tested.
I long ago abandoned Qantas as my go-to international carrier because of their high-cost airfares and uneven service. Why would you travel on Qantas, when for roughly the same price you can travel on Qatar, or Singapore Airlines for example, and have a much better hard and soft product experience?
Domestically, I am finding it hard to contemplate losing my Qantas Platinum frequent flyer status. But as I have said before, if Virgin Australia did something about the horror of Sydney’s T2 and restored Lounge Premium Entry, I would be very tempted to switch loyalty because of Virgin’s competitive economy fares and the very low-cost domestic business tickets, compared to Qantas.
Finally, Qantas really needs to do something to restore customers’ sense of loyalty. Tickets are harder to get and more expensive, service at airports and onboard is diminished, the ability to redeem points for virtually any premium seat on international flights has evaporated, and the really bad treatment of customers illustrated by this QF8 incident seems to be endemic.
We just changed the political spirit of Australia, to one of government with compassion. Qantas is now out of touch and no longer represents the Spirit of Australia, unless it involves avarice above customer service.
For more on the trials of Qantas and understaffing, Lucas Baird has written an excellent article in the AFR including an interview with Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully.