By Bruce Piper
Sir Winston Churchill once said “never let a good crisis go to waste,” and that certainly appears to be advice being taken by Qantas amidst the current coronacrisis.
In my opinion the carrier has masterfully navigated the pandemic, taking the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restructure its cost base including realising its long-held goal of outsourcing its heavily unionised ground handling operations, as well as putting pressure on landlords by hinting it might even relocate its Sydney head office if another state made a generous enough offer.
All this has been happening alongside a huge recalcitrance to pay refunds, and multiple announcements by CEO Alan Joyce about the grounding of the QF international fleet until at least the middle of 2021 — without actually cancelling those future flights until closer to the time, forcing customers who want their money back now to cancel themselves and incur the appropriate fees.
While nobody doubts the pressure the airline is under, the extreme measures are somewhat disingenuous — and I can guarantee that the instant borders open up there will be Qantas planes in the air again much sooner than Joyce’s current gloomy prognostications.
Being excessively downbeat about the situation definitely plays into the airline’s hands, particularly when it comes to the CEO’s cherished ambition of reducing what the airline is forced to pay travel agents.
With hundreds of travel agencies closing across the country — including 400 stores just within Flight Centre — it’s my guess that Qantas executives are relishing the opportunity to turn the tables on relationships with agency consortia, with the inordinate power of Australian resellers long seen as the “tail wagging the dog” in airline circles.
The outcomes of contract negotiations are likely to see incentives and overrides slashed, and there have also been suggestions that agent base commission could be even further reduced.
Of course where Qantas leads other airlines will follow, so the days of travel agency groups reaping fat head office override profits from the labours of their loyal members may be at an end.