‘Do better’: Warning to Qantas after customer complaints spike

Qantas' recent customer woes have rocketed it to the top of public complaints.

Qantas' recent customer woes have rocketed it to the top of public complaints. Photo: ABC

Qantas has taken out another top title – but this time it’s one it likely really didn’t want.

The national carrier was Australia’s most-complained-about airline in the year to June 2022, prompting a warning from the consumer watchdog.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s quarterly airline competition monitoring report noted that there were 1740 public complaints about Qantas – up a whopping 68 per cent on the previous 12 months.

“Such an increased level of contacts is generally indicative of a high
level of dissatisfaction with that company, and issues with that company’s ability to handle and resolve customer complaints,” the ACCC said on Wednesday.

“As Australia’s largest airline, and an airline that generally charges a
premium to fly, consumers expect a better service.”

While the ACCC noted that complaints did not always equate to a breach of consumer law, but said that “Qantas’ customer service issues, in particular long call wait times, have been well reported”.

Key issues driving the spike included remedies for flight cancellations due to COVID restrictions and travel industry chaos in mid-2022 as border rules were dropped.

The watchdog said while the struggles of the broader travel industry had been well-recognised, complaints actually fell for Qantas’ main rivals. At its budget arm Jetstar, they were down 33 per cent from 2020-21 to 544, while at Virgin Australia they fell 27 per cent from to 359.

“Qantas needs to do more to adequately invest in its systems, processes and people to dramatically improve its customer contact services and customer dispute resolution,” the report said.

Qantas recently declared a record half-year profit of $1.43 billion as chief executive Alan Joyce declared that problems for customers had been “largely resolved”.

Mr Joyce said the return to profit meant the airline could make “big investments in customer service”.

“There’s a steady stream of short and long-term projects happening … all with the simple aim of making people’s journey better,” he said.

It has also announced plans to recruit 8500 workers – cabin crew, pilots, engineers and in other operations roles – just two years after sacking thousands of staff at the height of its COVID hit.

“A lot of people left the industry anyway because there was no work for nearly three years,” Mr Joyce said.

“What we are now doing is recruiting to fill that gap. But also, more importantly, it’s to actually take up the growth that we are going to have, because we are going to have a lot of new aircraft flying a lot of new routes.”

The ACCC also found that there has been some relief for travellers from surging airfares, which have declined from historic highs at the end of 2022.

“While it’s positive to see airfares fall from record highs in 2022, passengers are still generally paying more to fly today than they were before the pandemic,” commissioner Anna Brakey said.

“Airfares typically come down after the Christmas travel peak due to a seasonal decrease in demand. However, some of this reduction is also explained by the airlines increasing their seat capacity.”

Joyce defends Qantas' massive lounge investment

Strife on the ground for airlines

Qantas and other international airlines appeared to have escaped major disruption from a 24-hour strike by some ground workers at Melbourne Airport.

The industrial action by aircraft refuellers from 4am on Wednesday to 4am on Thursday was a push for better pay and conditions for the workers employed by the Rivet Group, the Transport Workers’ Union said.

“For a year, Rivet refuellers have tried to reach a fair agreement but have instead been faced with base wage freezes which impact their pay now and long into the future,” TWU Victorian assistant branch secretary Mem Suleyman said.

“In the current cost-of-living crisis it is unacceptable to expect workers to pick up extra responsibilities and work harder, faster and longer to make ends meet.”

Rivet Aviation said it was “extremely disappointed” it could resolve the dispute, and it understood that would have a detrimental impact on travellers, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

However, it could not agree to claims put forward by the union and continue to operate viably, it said.

“Our business has battled through COVID and struggles to be profitable today, let alone implementing the immediate 12 per cent increase in wages being demanded,” Rivet said.

The strike was expected to affect some aircraft refuelling at Melbourne Airport, a spokesman said. However, most flights would operate as scheduled, and passengers were encouraged to go to the airport as normal unless contacted by their airline.

There was minimal impact to operations at the airport by mid-morning Wednesday.

Rivet services major freight and passenger airlines including Qantas, DHL, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Fiji Airways and Qatar Airways.

Qantas has a contract with ExxonMobil to provide fuel for flights out of Melbourne. The oil and gas company then subcontracts Rivet to refuel aircraft.

-with AAP

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