There’s been a flurry of activity from the Qantas bunker this week with the CEO, Alan Joyce, appearing in several media interviews. He was busy talking up the case for a return to domestic flying while tempering social distancing expectations.
Qantas grounded the majority of its aircraft and employees in March. It is down to flying a handful of international flights each month and some 160 services around Australia each week. The airline has the financial firepower to withstand another 18 months of these conditions. But it is still bleeding around $26 million each week.
Qantas keen to jump on the predicted domestic tourist boom
As the conversation grows in Australia concerning the re-opening of interstate borders, there is a growing expectation of a domestic tourist boom. Naturally, Qantas wants a slice of that pie. Domestic flying is usually a cash-rich mother lode for Qantas. It generated $426 in earnings before tax in the latter half of 2019.
So it’s in Qantas’ interests to see interstate border restrictions eased. This week, Mr Joyce has been busy talking up the case for re-opening borders and how Qantas could play a role in promoting domestic tourism with cheap airfares and a fast ramp-up of capacity.
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We could have half the fleet in the air by July says Qantas boss
With the bulk of the airline’s 30,000 employees on leave, Mr Joyce acknowledges he can’t have planes ready to go at every gate tomorrow morning, but he thinks Qantas could have half its domestic fleet in the air by July if demand warrants it.
Mr Joyce has previously said it takes approximately one week to bring an aircraft out of storage and get it and a crew ready to take off.
“We have talked about things like offering $19 airfares between Melbourne and Sydney when we get started. We have to offer really cheap airfares to get people to overcome their reluctance around COVID-19,” he told 9News yesterday.
Hand sanitizer in, social distancing out
Qantas also contacted the approximately 12 million members of its frequent flyer scheme this week. The email outlined what Qantas was doing to keep passengers healthy as it anticipates “travel restrictions easing.”
Somewhat controversially, Qantas is making a case for not practicing standard social distancing requirements inflight. Mr Joyce made several valid points concerning this yesterday. But what galvanized most people’s attention was his suggestion that airfares could increase tenfold if Qantas abided by the toughest social distancing protocols. If that was to be the case, those $19 airfares might be thin on the ground.
Instead, Qantas is telling its frequent flyers to bring a face mask or use the one that will be offered. The airline says the check-in and departure experience will mostly be contactless and that there will be ample hand sanitizers available around the terminal.
Inflight service and catering to be further “simplified”
Prospective passengers are also being primed for a “simplified” service onboard and in the lounges. Plenty of regular passengers think Qantas catering was simplified enough and well past its use-by date before the pandemic hit. What’s next? A Neil Perry inspired Uncle Toby’s muesli bar for lunch?
Of course, if you’ve been homebound for three months and itching to go somewhere (and Qantas has previously published statistics suggesting the majority of its regular passengers are keen to fly at the earliest opportunity), you won’t much care about what’s for lunch on QF488.
Qantas is probably banking on that. Service cutbacks and hassles in the terminal will be a small tradeoff to pay for people keen to get moving. Despite the talk from Qantas about what it can do for local tourism, for the airline, the key outcome is to get revenue flowing again. That’s fair enough. Over the next months, we’ll probably see how effective Mr Joyce’s campaigning has been in achieving that.