Aspiring to Levels of Mediocrity – A Review of Qantas Airlines

I don’t write reviews of every airline, but I do like to highlight ones on which I have never flown, particularly if it’s a long trip. On our trip to Australia, we had the opportunity to fly Qantas six times in less than two weeks, so I feel that I can write about the airline fairly intelligently. Note of caution: I am not a hardcore aviation enthusiast, I do not comment on various plane designs or other technical items of note. I write about the travel experience, which is far more interesting to me.

Qantas Long Haul Flight Experience

Long haul flights are a unique experience, a flying metal terrarium of humanity. People aren’t meant to spend fifteen hours locked inside a tube being flung halfway around the world, and the psychology of the experience can be fascinating. Given how difficult long flights can be, airlines have to not just provide a reasonably nice experience for people, they have to go above and beyond in order to ensure the health and sanity of their passengers. That’s why I was surprised at how mediocre Qantas was, especially since it helped pioneer the practice of long haul flights.

In these reviews I usually comment on Premium Economy and Business Class offerings, either from personal experience or passing through on the way to my economy class seat. Unfortunately, the way the Qantas A380 was organized I only got a brief glance at Business Class and wasn’t allowed to even set eyes on any other class of service. So, sadly, I can’t review those. What I can do though is detail the odd economy class service.

It was odd because it was so inconsistent, a quality that persists through to Qantas’ domestic service as well. What surprised me most in comparing the inbound and outbound long haul flights was how different they were, which really shouldn’t have been the case. On the way to Australia, we had a couple of meals, which is normal of course, but were also given a snack bag to enjoy during the evening hours of the flight. I thought that was a great idea and a considerate touch. These snack bags suddenly disappeared though on the way home. I can understand some food differences between the two flights, the same galley items just aren’t available. But the same service features should be the same, certain things should just not disappear, like the snack bags. Inconsistency though wasn’t limited to just the food, it unfortunately was also seen in the in-flight service.

To be blunt, the flight attendants weren’t great. They were fine, they did their jobs, but little more. The person next to me couldn’t get his entertainment system to work and hit the flight attendant call button for some help and waited for someone to show up. And waited. And waited. It took 45 minutes for someone to notice, which was odd since there wasn’t a meal or beverage service going on. They just couldn’t be bothered with it I suppose.

This is what I hated most about the flight, not knowing what kind of experience we’d be getting. Rather than a true flying Experience, like the always excellent Air New Zealand, it just seemed like a flying coach bus. The one saving grace was that the new A380s are great. They’re comfortable, quiet and really do make the long haul experience much nicer. Too bad Qantas couldn’t match the service to the plane.

Qantas Domestic Flight Experiences

Reflecting on our inter-Australian flying experiences with Qantas, the first thing that strikes me as odd is that none of the flights ever left on time, usually inexplicably. The worst offender was the debacle which a short, one-hour flight from Sydney to Melbourne became.

The day before our flight I received a notice that the flight had been cancelled but we had been automatically rebooked on a slightly later flight. Then, when we arrived to the airport I noticed that several more flights to Melbourne had been cancelled. As it turns out, every flight to Melbourne that afternoon had been cancelled and all the passengers had been reassigned to a single flight on a huge 767-300. Strange aircraft for a one-hour flight, but the cancellations were even more strange. There was no weather or mechanical reason given for them, they were just cancelled. The cynic in me would assume the airline consolidated all of the low-passenger flights into one mega-flight, but surely that can’t be the case. I’m not sure about Australian laws, but that’s not allowed in the U.S. Still, that’s just but one example of how Qantas fumbles its domestic operations.

Something else that surprised me, particularly for an airline currently experiencing some financial issues, is how much they fed us on the flights. Having taken flights around Asia, I know that many of the airlines routinely feed their passengers even on short flights, a fact unheard of here in the U.S. But I didn’t expect that from the faltering Qantas. Every flight included a meal and on that one-hour flight to Melbourne we were even given a hot meal. I’m not complaining about it, it’s just odd and doesn’t seem to be the best business decision.

Overall, while I certainly don’t regret flying Qantas, I can’t see a real reason to choose to fly them either. Within Australia the options are fairly limited, no doubt. It’s pretty much Qantas, Virgin Australia or Jetstar, a division of Qantas. Internationally, other airlines service Australia and while you won’t be on an A380, the service and commitment to passengers will almost certainly be better.

I want to like Qantas, I really do. I love their history and what they symbolize as a company. But until they get their house in order, I’ll stick to other carriers.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

7 thoughts on “Aspiring to Levels of Mediocrity – A Review of Qantas Airlines”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve flown Qantas a lot and you always wonder as you get on the flight whether it’s going to be a good one or not. I suppose it creates a bit of excitement… but then there’s always disappointment when the service or food is lacking…

  2. Interesting write-up! I do feel like Qantas needs to get some of their priorities straight. As for your comment on the hot meals on short flights, I think Qantas started doing that because without it there really wasn’t anything else to set the flights apart from the budget airlines. They started serving up meals to show that they are a full-service airline… at least that’s what I heard.

    It’s also interesting how you mention the service being lacking.. but not horrible. I know what you mean, and I think that is just the way customer service is in this country in general. It’s not ever bad, but people don’t go out of their way to please you, generally. Can’t say if that is what happened on your flights, but it really doesn’t surprise me to read it.

  3. Hi Matt,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I fly Qantas for week out of Alice Springs every third week. Unfortunately, Qantas is the only carrier here at the moment (Tiger is still not flying to Alice).

    Whilst the food service has improved a lot on the domestic routes I fly on, the attitude of the flight attendants still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s barely hospitable. Very much “I’m a Qantas flight attendant, damn it, and you’re just pleb.”

    Personally, I’d rather pay for the food like you do on Virgin and have flight attendants who actually gave a damn.

    The other thing you raised is inexplicable lateness. This I can also confirm. For no apparent reason, the Friday afternoon flight from Darwin to Alice Springs is late more often than it ever goes on time.

    Given that my agency is paying $400 EACH WAY (don’t start me on how much we get ripped off in the NT by Qantas) for this 2 hour flight, you’d think that Qantas could at least offer an overhead announcement as to why the flight is 10, 15, 20 min late?

    On only one occasion in the last 6 months have they ever given an explanation for the lateness before I got on the plane.

    Given the choice, I never fly Qantas within Australia. This is a shame, as like yourself, I’d really like to say that our legendary national carrier is awesome.

  4. It’s been almost 10 years since I flew on Qantas. I flew them from the US, and also took 7 domestic flights in my 2 months there and had not one problem. I had two flights delayed, but those were the only glitches. When asked by people what the best airline I’ve ever flown is, Qantas is always an easy answer.

  5. Interesting viewpoints. Having lived and flown in the US for several years and travelled back their regularly since returning to Australia, I think I have a reasonable number of experiences and stories to tell. I do the bulk of my domestic flying in economy up and down the east coast of Australia. Usually weekly trips. I can honestly say that the worst trip with Qantas in many years of flying was better than ANY flight I had while travelling for business domestically in the US. It’s a totally different culture or something I can’t quite explain. I really admire the major US carriers for the fact they operate on a scale much much larger than Qantas or Virgin Australia, but the experience in coach once you step on that plane is uniformly nasty.
    What’s really interesting in the local domestic market these days is the way Virgin Australia has quietly become an almost full service competitor of Qantas after starting life as a no frills/low cost carrier. If you get the chance to fly down under again sometime, your thoughts on the merits of both carriers would be interesting to read!

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