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I hate Qantas!

That may not come as too much of a surprise to those that know me. I concede I get carried away sometimes with the adverse way I rate Qantas when compared to Virgin Blue, an airline which I consider to be a vastly superior domestic carrier in Australia.

However, on this occasion, let me try and strip the emotion away and explain why Virgin Blue is better. The scenario is this. I am scheduled to travel to Perth from Melbourne with Qantas (not my choice) on an Airbus A330. The aircraft on which we are supposed to travel is 40 minutes late arriving from Sydney. Something to get upset about? Not really. After all it is Boxing Day with half of Australia travelling it seems, there is adverse weather all around the country and this particular aircraft originates from Sydney, notorious for causing delays.

However, 30 minutes after the revised boarding time for out flight, it is apparent that something isn’t right. 40 minutes after the revised boarding time there is finally an announcement. There is a problem with the flaps on the aircraft and we would be kept informed. Do I have a problem with Qantas being 100% certain the aircraft is airworthy? Absolutely not. Do I have a problem with having to wait 40 minutes to find out what’s going on? Absolutely.

Issue 1: Failure to keep the customers informed.

To Qantas’s credit, they have done a couple of good things I haven’t seen before. The flight attendants have come into the lounge to hand out drinks, nibbles and ice creams. Also, one of the flight crew is present in the lounge to deal with any customer enquiries.

After another period of time (I must admit, I don’t remember how long), we are advised the aircraft is unserviceable and they have arranged a replacement aircraft. This will leave from a lounge at the other end of the terminal at 3:00pm, 2 hours 25 minutes after the original scheduled departure time. We can present our boarding pass at a food outlet to receive a meal to the value of $10 (wow, that gets you a lot at Melbourne airport). We also need to present our boarding passes at the service desk, because there is a change of aircraft, to a Boeing 767 with a different seating configuration.

Issue 2: It took around 40 minutes to give everyone (approximately 250 people) a new boarding pass, with the queue stretching a very long way through the terminal. Seriously Qantas, you’ve already screwed people around. Couldn’t you actually plan for these events and organise for some more people to be available?

So, having been informed by the Qantas staff members at the service desk that the food voucher was actually $20, off we toddle to get some lunch.

Issue 3: The people at the food outlets have been told the voucher value was $10, while the customers have been told it’s $20.

Back to the lounge now as we don’t want to miss our 3:00pm departure. At 3:10pm, still sitting in the lounge, it is apparent we are not leaving at 3:00pm. Then there is an announcement from one of the flight crew that, because of the different aircraft type and the delay, catering needs to be re-done for the flight and sourced from the Qantas kitchens. There will be a further delay and we are not expected to leave until 4:30pm, a smidgeon less than four hours later than the original scheduled departure.

Issue 4: Why does Qantas get so hung up on feeding people? Even for a 4 hour flight to Perth, surely it’s possible for people to forego feeding their faces. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve experienced delays with Qantas because of “catering requirements”. Also, the appalling quality of the food just doesn’t justify the more expensive fare. I don’t care if it’s inspired by Neil Perry. It’s still crap.

Issue 5: As a much younger airline, Virgin Blue has the benefit of having one type of aircraft on its major routes, the Boeing 737. Qantas has a mixture of 737s, Airbus and Boeing 767 aircraft. Thus when problems occur, Virgin has much better flexibility to make changes to aircraft with a minimum of inconvenience.

In summary, you’re always going to get emotional, almost religious wars, about which is the better airline. Customer service, good or bad, is pretty subjective. Did they smile at me? Did they keep me informed? Was the captain there to wave me goodbye as I left the aircraft?

But when considering Issues 4 and 5 above, there is no good reason why you would seriously consider flying Qantas domestically in Australia. It’s dearer than the competition (generally speaking), its customer service is choppy, and operationally, it is in a much worse position than the competition to react to unexpected events. And that’s mainly why I choose to fly Virgin. And they smile!

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