How Qantas Could Celebrate Its Centenary Next Year

Given the role modern aviation plays in our lives, how we just take it for granted, it’s kind of amazing aviation has been around for a mere nanosecond in the greater scheme of things. Like the internet, it’s hard to imagine life without it. But it’s only very recently that the first airlines are starting to mark their centenaries. Following British Airways and KLM, Qantas is next off the block and they have no plans to let their big year slip by unnoticed. 

The Qantas Short Empire Flying Boat, Cooee, circa 1940. Photo: State Library of Queensland via Flickr.

Qantas has come a long way since Winton

Qantas was founded in Winton, Queensland, in 1920 by Wilmot Hudson Fysh, Paul McGuinness and Fergus McMaster. The following year it shifted its fledgeling base a couple of hundred kilometres down the track to Longreach (explaining the eponymous Longreach tag on the Qantas 747-400s).

Within twenty years they were flying up to Singapore to link up with Imperial Airways and sending passengers through to London. Qantas, like many Australian brands, has always made a big deal out of its history grounded in red dust, flying boats, and the outback.

And the early murmurs out of Qantas’ contemporary headquarters at Mascot, near Sydney Airport, suggest they are not going to let their centenary year pass by quietly.

Templates for Qantas to celebrate its centenary year

It undoubtedly irks Qantas that they are only the world’s third oldest airline. There are not many prizes for coming third. But it does give them a couple of centenary templates to look at.

KLM celebrated its centenary a couple of months ago. It compressed its “celebrations” into a short time frame and produced a film that told the history of KLM, linking it with the evolution of European society across the same period. It was quiet, tasteful and fairly subtle.

British Airways made more noise with their centenary in August. It was also a more protracted affair than the KLM anniversary. BA’s centenary advertising started back in February. In June Betty Windsor swung through BA’s headquarters for a look-see and a how-do-you-do meet and greet. Various 747s have sported heritage livery throughout the year and on the actual centenary weekend, passengers were given various knick-knacks such as special edition centenary amenity kits, chocolates, and kids backpacks.

British Airways marked its centenary with a mixture of kitsch and razzle-dazzle. Photo: via Flickr.

When brands mark events such as a centenary year, the focus tends to be on their home markets – that’s where their primary customer base is, where the brand’s history is best known, and where the brand’s DNA is. BA was more shouty than KLM when it came to marking their respective anniversaries. That’s possibly a cultural thing, both at a national and business level.

Although its global footprint has shrunk, that old “world’s favorite airline” was a genius BA marketing slogan that still lingers – even if it is unwarranted nowadays. KLM has always been much more discreet and subtle. 

What will Qantas do?

Knowing Qantas and how it works, they’ll surely adopt the out there and proud BA tack rather than the quieter KLM centenary model. Indeed, Qantas is talking about their centenary already and strictly speaking, it’s still thirteen months to go to the actual date. God save us.

If you followed last weekend’s Project Sunrise research flights and noted the amount of press coverage it got, you’ll appreciate Qantas’ ability and resources to make some noise.

They’ve already developed special centenary branding and we’ll be seeing it on various aircraft, including the remaining 787-9 Dreamliners being delivered over the next year.

Qantas has already rolled out is special centenary livery. Photo: Qantas.

We’ll see a lot of noise regarding the retirement of their 747s, scheduled to happen next year, although there are rumors the final 747s won’t leave the Qantas fleet until 2021. You can expect more points planes and points destinations like the current extended points planes promotion to the Northern Territory.

What they could do, and it would be kind of cool, would be to re-enact the original kangaroo route. Sure, there are no more Catalinas or 707s around, but hopping across on a final 747 flight would be memorable. Or re-enacting the fiesta route, off in the opposite direction. You could flog them off as points planes but the downside of that is that availability is basically restricted to the small pool of Qantas frequent fliers with enough spare points to snap the tickets up. If they were sold for cash, anyone could buy them. That would be inclusive.

Inclusiveness is important

And heading into their centenary year, that’s something Qantas should keep in mind. Handing out some centenary logo embossed Neil Perry “inspired” chocolate to the pax in economy class is just a junk gesture. Giving everyone the ability to participate in the big-ticket fun centenary events, not just the usual pool of Qantas high fliers, will allow the centenary to resonate with a far broader public. It would build goodwill and generate wider public interest.

What Qantas will do, and how inclusive will be, remains to be seen. One thing you can bet your last dollar on is that you’ll be hearing about it. You can take that as a warning or heads up!

What do you think Qantas should do for their centenary? Post a comment and let us know.