All of the usual pundits are saying that the recent three day grounding of the Qantas fleet has done immeasurable damage to their brand and reputation. That’s to be expected and in the short term it certainly has caused enormous upset to the tens of thousands of customers, their families and associates. In short, it’s a customer experience nightmare.
But it could have been worse. Consider the alternative scenario.
For months, union strikes have been causing uncertainty and inconvenience for the travelling public and Qantas. Short union strikes of an hour to a few hours at strategic airports, and often on a Friday, have disrupted the plans of thousands of travellers. As recently as last Friday (28 October) a short strike in Melbourne and Sydney disrupted the travel plans of people travelling for the Melbourne Cup. Before that it was the Grand Final plans of thousands of football spectators.
These short strikes had relatively little impact on the people taking the action, just a few hours wages, but a huge impact on the travelling public and Qantas. This imbalance of impact would have allowed the unions to continue the process indefinitely.
Bad enough for the customer experience in the last few months but now let’s look forward to the next 6-8 weeks. This is the crucial Christmas holiday period where Australians travel the across the country to be with loved ones for the summer holiday season. Union action in that period would cause enormous uncertainty to the travelling public and still be without an end in sight.
Television images of families sitting in airport terminals on Christmas eve; sombre parents with crying children telling the cameras how sad their kids are not to see Grandma on Christmas day would be all over the evening news. That’s a customer experience and brand impact that no airline wants.
This is what Qantas could foresee but which the travelling public and pundits were blissfully unaware.
So Qantas pulled the pin, grounded their fleet and forced the matter to a resolution. From what I understand (I’m not an industrial relations lawyer) no further industrial action is permitted by either party and a resolution must occur within 21 days. It’s all rather like pulling of a Band-Aid in one quick rip. It hurts more but just for a few seconds and then it’s over and done with.
Did it work?
It’s impossible to tell whether this short, very painful, action by Qantas is less painful overall than the alternative scenario. I tend to think that it is.
What it has done is given the travelling public (and Qantas management) much greater certainty that their Qantas flight to see Grandma will not be subject to last minute delays and cancellations. The long term customer experience has been improved even if it has been very painful for a couple of days.