A Qantas pilot has laid bare the unsettling reality of why staff are unhappy with how the airline has dealt with turbulent times.
The airline’s fall from grace began when international borders snapped shut during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and has been marked by a series of problems, including major staff lay-offs, customer service complaints and widespread flights delays and cancellations.
Following a week of damning blows for the national carrier, outgoing chief executive Alan Joyce announced on Tuesday that he would retire two months early from the role.
Former Qantas pilot of 34 years Richard de Crespigny said it has been hard to stomach the airline’s actions in recent years while staff suffered through job losses and uncertainty.
“While Alan, I think, did a reasonable job of pulling (the airline) out of the coma, the staff suffered,” he told Today on Wednesday morning.
“(They) maybe divorced, lost their homes, suffered depression.
“I find it quite remarkable that while the staff were suffering and engagement is at its lowest, the board decides to give the airline bonuses when the company has more criticism than any other in history.
“It‘s unfair and it shouldn't really happen and I think the board needs some fresh blood.”
The airline returned an eye-watering $2.46bn profit result for the last financial year.
Mr Joyce will walk away from the company with a $24m pay packet and a $10m bonus.
Nightmare week for Qantas
The airline has faced a wave of scrutiny in recent weeks over allegations it sold tickets for “ghost flights” and lobbied the federal government to reject Qatar Airways’ bid to increase flights to Australia.
In a statement, the airline said: “Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce has advised the board he will bring forward his retirement by two months to help the company accelerate its renewal.”
On Wednesday, Vanessa Hudson moved into the role as managing director and group chief executive – two months ahead of schedule.
Mr Joyce said the events of the past weeks had made it clear the company needs to prioritise and “move ahead with its renewal”.
“The best thing I can do under these circumstances is to bring forward my retirement and hand over to Vanessa and the new management team now, knowing they will do an excellent job,” he said.
In a statement released on Monday, Qantas acknowledged that its service standards had fallen “well short” of expectations in recent times.
“We openly acknowledge that our service standards fell well short and we sincerely apologise,” a spokesman said.
Allegations of ‘ghost flights’
The statement was a direct response to multiple allegations made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission including that the airline had advertised tickets for more than 8000 already cancelled flights between May and July last year.
The consumer watchdog launched a lawsuit with the Federal Court last Thursday, with the airline facing a potential penalty of more than $250m.
The ACCC alleges the airline continued to advertise and sell 8000 tickets for an average of two weeks and up to 47 days after flights had been cancelled.
It’s further alleged customers with tickets on more than 10,000 flights scheduled to depart over a three-month period were not notified their flights had been cancelled for an average of 18 days, the watchdog alleges.
“The ACCC alleges that for about 70 per cent of cancelled flights, Qantas either continued to sell tickets for the flight on its website for two days or more or delayed informing existing ticketholders that their flight was cancelled for two days or more or both,” a spokesman said last week.
PM coy on meetings with Joyce
Meanwhile, the government has been under pressure following revelations it knocked back Qatar Airways’ application to increase flights to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has accused Anthony Albanese of a “sweetheart deal” with Mr Joyce in order to shield Qantas from greater competition.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed he had “no lobbying” from the carrier on the issue.
Pressure mounts at senate hearing
A tense exchange at a senate committee hearing last week lead to the admission Qantas is holding $470m in travel credit owed to passengers who had flights cancelled because of Covid.
Mr Joyce said the $370m in outstanding travel credits Qantas previously revealed are solely Qantas bookings, and do not include Jetstar or overseas-based bookings.
Qantas said it would step up efforts to communicate with passengers and clear the travel credit by the end of the year.