Forget the spin: Restoring trust in Qantas won’t be easy or come cheap

Qantas’ new chief executive Vanessa Hudson knows what she has to do to make her mark: repair the airline’s estranged relationship with its customers and staff.

It’s a Herculean task that won’t be simple and probably won’t be cheap in the short term. Restoring customer service will require additional investment and a discernable improvement in Qantas systems – from refunds and credits, to getting customers to their destinations on time.

Qantas’ new CEO Vanessa Hudson faces a mammoth task to fix the airline’s reputation.
Qantas’ new CEO Vanessa Hudson faces a mammoth task to fix the airline’s reputation.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

The Qantas public relations machine has engineered an Olympic-level about face over the past week – abandoning its slavish defence of the now-departed CEO Alan Joyce and putting forward a face of contrition rather than hubris.

The new CEO, Hudson, might like to draw on the experiences of the banking or casino industry to get a sense of the task at hand. The banks had their reckoning after they were outed for their poor treatment of customers during a royal commission into the industry, while the two major casino groups – Crown and Star Entertainment – have been forced to recast their business models to have a shot at regaining their licences.

Rebuilding public trust has turned out to be an expensive exercise for both industries. The rebirth of Qantas as a customer-centric organisation will require more than just applying public relations lip gloss.

Customer trust has been abused and a flurry of endearing, patriotic advertisements won’t do the trick. Qantas also can’t keep blaming COVID-19 or the post-COVID industry turbulence for why it took its customers for granted.

For example, Joyce misstated that the $370 million value of unused customer credits, and only revealed an additional $100 million or more when pushed during a Senate inquiry just over a week ago. It was a terrible look that only further enraged the disgruntled public.

Selectively calling the Australian aviation market “incredibly competitive” is also disingenuous when Qantas, in partnership with Emirates, dominates the European route with a 45 per cent market share. Meanwhile, the domestic market is a virtual duopoly.


The airline can no longer use selective statistics to claim airfares are barely higher than before COVID. And it can’t keep going with the line that service issues are a thing of the past when Qantas remains the most complained about business in the country, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Based on the customer criticism that finds its way into social and other media, there are some high-priority pain points that Hudson needs to address.

She needs to make it easier for customers to use their COVID credits or to have these fares refunded in cash. Dropping the sunset clause on the use of these credits isn’t enough.

Saying that refunds and credits are available – but making it too difficult to use them – is almost as frustrating as being denied the opportunity to retrieve them.

And for those who use credits to reinstate the same booking, Qantas should not be asking for customers to pay double. Any defence of this practice of charging higher fares for the same flight (which relies on other airlines doing the same thing) misses the point.

Qantas customers bought those tickets for a particular flight in good faith – asking them to pay more because the airline was unable to fly leaves a bad taste. The other area of customer dissatisfaction is their inability to redeem points booking classic rewards, which appear to be as rare as hen’s teeth.

Vanessa Hudson on her listening tour. Now for the action.
Vanessa Hudson on her listening tour. Now for the action.

The prescribed changes will cost the airline revenue and profit, but it’s a bitter pill that Hudson may have to swallow.

So, this listening tour that Hudson has embarked on, talking to staff and passengers, needs to be a genuine exercise in the company moving decisively to clean up its act. Qantas’ customers have to know that their frustrations are being taken seriously.

And the early signs are good. Maybe this is the reason Hudson takes the helm at Qantas with so much goodwill on her side.

One aggrieved customer, who emailed me this week with a complaint and then subsequently emailed Hudson directly, had a pleasant resolution.

Hudson responded to the customer quickly and resolved the problem. That’s a pretty good start.

The Market Recap newsletter is a wrap of the day’s trading. Get it each weekday afternoon.

Most Viewed in Business

Source: Thanks