Qantas has blamed ‘rusty’ passengers for extreme delays and days of chaos as the airline tries to return to normal operation after years spent in Covid-limbo.
“We’re also seeing that passengers are rusty in travelling as well,” said CEO Alan Joyce in a now infamous comment that has lead social media to call for him to be removed as CEO. “Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers. Of course it’s not their fault.”
Complaints have poured in as thousands of passengers were left waiting for delayed flights, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. Customers were furious, not only with their late and missing aircraft, but also with the lack of customer service.
Wait times for phone support and email responses were both a point of frustration, while queues inside the terminal left people standing for hours. Customers are also reporting a rise in lost baggage and general disorder.
“We’ve got some grave concerns. They’re calling managers in to assist on the ground with baggage handling,” said Teri O’Toole, Secretary of Flight Attendants Association of Australia. She went on to remark that it was ‘ludicrous’ for Qantas CEO Alan Joyce to blame passengers for the mayhem.
“This was coming. Everyone knew that travel would come back at the Easter break and everyone would especially want to get over to the Western states to see their families. To suggest that this wasn’t known is just ridiculous.”
An extra 750 call centre staff are being brought on to handle calls, while Qantas seeks to urgently hire staff inside the terminal.
“These shortages have nothing really to do with Easter or passengers flying again. What’s it’s got a lot to do with is the fact that jobs are being outsourced,” added O’Toole. “People don’t work for Qantas anymore, they work for third party employers.”
The national carrier has previously been forced to defend its decision to outsource over 2,000 ground staff jobs while at the same time putting 2,500 flight attendants onto a ‘modern award’ which sees them with less take-home pay.
Qantas issued an urgent request yesterday to unrostered pilots, begging them to come in and pilot domestic and international flights after the airline found itself critically understaffed. In short supply are captains and first officers, leaving Qantas to frantically hunt around for crew at the beginning of the critical Easter break.
Qantas was one of many companies to cut staff during Covid. The airline received over $1.6 billion in taxpayer help in the form of payments, waived charges and underwritten flights. However, with flights partially grounded and business below 40% capacity for the best part of two years, the airline bled billions.
During the pandemic, Qantas laid off at least 8,500 staff – 2,500 were ground staff. Pre-Covid, the company employed around 22,000.
The airline also has a Covid vaccination mandate, further reducing the pool of available pilots and staff. Sacked staff who lost their jobs due to vaccine mandates have been involved in various Freedom Protests, insisting that they are willing and ready to work.
Aviation staff and engineers from Qantas started legal action against the company in the Federal Court to contest the vaccination policy, arguing that it is a breach of both privacy laws and Fair Work.
In addition to staff dismissals and losses through mandates, Qantas is also struggling to manage required Covid isolation orders for infected staff.
Despite a fully-vaccinated workforce, Covid is working its way through the airline, leading a spokesperson to say, “The industry is seeing the same challenges, but more severe, around the world, and we’re managing this the best we can.”
Passengers can expect delays to continue for at least the next few days while the company finds staff to patch up choke points.