Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fast downgrade, slow refund

My loyalty to Qantas has waned in the past few years because of indifferent customer service but the piece de resistance was waiting more than two months for a refund after a Qantas flight downgrade that was made to accommodate its staff on a flight from Sydney to Auckland.

This downgrade was advised only as we drove to the airport but we were assured a refund would be processed quickly. If we can book flights online and have credit cards debited instantly, why does it take so long to receive a refund?

- Mary Maloney


Monday, August 15, 2011

Qantas pilots told not to make up lost time

Who cares about passenger convenience?

PILOTS are being ordered to stop trying to make up time on Qantas flights running significantly late - so the airline can save on fuel costs.

In a snub for passengers, the airline has a strict policy of refusing to allow pilots to catch up if they can't land in the 15-minute window that qualifies as being on time. "If the aircraft is running late and the pilot can't make it there within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time then he or she is not permitted to fly faster and burn more fuel," one pilot said. "It would seem that the underlying assumption is that once a passenger is more than 15 minutes late, they may as well be an hour late."

Traditionally, if a flight is running an hour late a pilot could fly faster to minimise the delay. However, late pilots are allowed to fly faster provided they are capable of landing within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time. That would count as an on-time arrival - although Qantas denies this is the reason for the policy.

Australian International Pilots Association vice-president Captain Richard Woodward confirmed the policy. "Pilots are capable of making up time in the air if needs be, but they obviously need to burn more fuel to achieve that," he said.

"The policy states that if you can't land the aircraft within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time, you're not allowed to try. So even if a pilot can improve the ETA from an hour late to 20 minutes late, they're not permitted to attempt it."

Qantas confirmed fuel - which cost the airline more than $4 billion a year - was a major factor in deciding whether or not to make up time. "Fuel burn increases exponentially when the aircraft goes faster so in trying to make up just a few minutes, planes can burn through thousands of litres of jet fuel," a spokesman said.

"Airlines around the world are already charging passengers fuel surcharges and higher airfares because of high jet fuel prices and burning more and more fuel puts further pressure on airfares."

Under Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics benchmarks, which Qantas and other airlines use to measure their performance, flight arrival is counted as "on time" if the plane arrives at the gate within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.

Qantas said the policy had nothing to do with boosting its on-time running figures and was all about fuel costs.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Multiple bungles by Jetstar see bride miss her wedding

IT IS customary for brides to run late to their weddings but one couple missed theirs entirely yesterday after a series of mishaps on their Jetstar flight.

The couple, who were flying to Bali with some of their guests, were due to leave Melbourne at 6.30pm on Friday, before their nuptials at midday yesterday. The bride, who wished to remain anonymous, was even wearing a white swimsuit in anticipation of the balmy weather, according to a fellow passenger.

The first sign that things were amiss came on Friday afternoon, when the airline texted passengers that flight JQ35 would be delayed.

When passengers seated in the business lounge made inquiries, they were told the pilot was sick and flying in a replacement would result in a two-hour delay.

Vivienne Golabek, 54, who was travelling with her husband, Danny, said: "At 8pm we finally got a call saying that we were boarding. As we were sitting on the flight there was an announcement about the substitute pilot that we were getting from Sydney to say that his luggage was lost and in his luggage was his passport."

Some time after 8.30pm, the passengers were told to disembark, given meal vouchers and told to return at 9.50pm. But when the passengers arrived at the gate, there were no staff. After 20 minutes, some staff arrived and at 10.30pm, four federal police officers were on the scene. "They were probably worried in case someone caused a scene," Mrs Golabek said.

A quiet voice then came over the intercom to say the flight would be cancelled due to road works on the tarmac at Denpasar Airport.

Passengers who lived more than 100 kilometres from the airport were given hotel vouchers, but others, including the Golabeks, had to fend for themselves.

Mrs Golabek, of Melbourne, had no connection to the wedding couple but said the bride was "very, very quiet, very subdued and very emotional. Her partner is also very quiet. "There are a lot of people with young children who would not have got to their hotels before 12.30am. There was a total lack of communication and everyone feels they were lied to and some hope Jetstar goes under."

The flight left Melbourne at 9.30am yesterday. Passengers were offered a $100 Jetstar voucher in a letter which apologised for "unforseen mechanical issues".

A Jetstar spokesman said: "There might have been some confused messages in what was a complicated situation. The captain was sick and the replacement from Sydney had to fly to Melbourne and realised his passport had been misplaced.

"There was a delay getting the passport by which stage there was work going on at the airport. We are sorry for the inconvenience and sympathise with everyone on the flight."


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another joyous Qantas flight -- or two

I TELL you what makes my blood boil - it's when the engine explodes after take-off.

There you are on the trip of a lifetime to Europe, in business class (thanks to frequent flyer points), although actually securing a business-class seat with points is a heckle all of its own. So having beaten that challenge, it was with a sense of smug satisfaction that I reclined my seat, a gin and tonic in hand, as we took off from Bangkok for the final leg to London.

The explosion that rocked the plane was followed by a deathly silence.

I'm not a nervous flyer, but I became a little worried at that point. The captain announced that we had "engine trouble". (A distinct advantage of business class is you can't actually see the fireball and flames). We then had to fly to a zone to dump all the fuel before landing. This takes an hour. The captain assured us he had done this before on a simulator. He also assured us the emergency services vehicles we would see along the runway were standard procedure. Of course they were.

Once landed, we had to wait a further hour and a half on the runway while Qantas negotiated immigration for a plane full of passengers. But don't expect this to make any difference. The official asked what my intended address was in Thailand, and, as I looked at him blankly, would not allow me in.

The airport was empty save for a straggly queue of weary refugees, all with no address. So, none of us were allowed through.

Eventually, some official waived the condition and we collected our bags and were shipped off to a hotel arriving, exhausted, just before dawn.

No new aeroplane was flown in. Instead we were bumped onto other flights. We were kindly offered a flight to Tokyo. I pointed out that we were actually hoping to go to London.

Eventually, we agreed to go economy so as to arrive in less than three days.

No air miles were refunded. No concessions were made. All dreams of business-class luxury, sleep and gin and tonics receded. Connecting flights were missed. The trip of a lifetime was fast becoming a nightmare.

But not to worry, we had a lovely long holiday before we had to contemplate the flight home.

Except you won't believe what happened on the way home. The plane broke down, in Hong Kong this time. Another trip back and forth through immigration. Another night in a hotel. Another great experience with the "Spirit of Australia".