Only governments and airlines are geared to view massive swings in finances as standard operating procedure. Australia’s Qantas in 2012 lost $450 million on its international routes and yet it still drinks from the proverbial cup half full. I had a chance to catch up with Qantas executives at the end of April at the Australian Tourism Exchange to get an update on just how the airline is doing these days.
They told me that important partnerships with Emirates and American Airlines, as well as the strong performance of JetStar, Qantas’ low-cost subsidiary, have given Qantas flexibility in how it manages routes and passenger flow. Investment in equipment, cabin service and personnel maintain its essential reputation for service and safety.
In the strictest geometric terms, the U.S. and Australia are antipodal. That is, they each reside at opposite ends of the world. Connecting those extremes is the challenge Qantas takes on with 34 nonstop flights from Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland; a daily direct service from JFK; three flights from Honolulu to Sydney, and a new Dallas route offering seven flights per week. The route runs to Sydney via Brisbane, and returns direct from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth.
“The Dallas route has been a great success,” says Stephen Thompson, Qantas’ executive director. “It’s fed out of places like Miami, but also out of Canada. Whenever you fly into an airline’s hub, which Dallas-Fort Worth is for American Airlines, you get enormous benefits and with AA now merging with US Airways that makes the deal even stronger for us.”
Cabin service is the best tonic to ease the pain of long-haul flying and the 22 hour flight from New York to Sydney via Los Angeles (with a two-hour layover) is Qantas’ longest between the two countries. Selling that flight to American passengers, conditioned by the horrific service they’ve experienced on domestic flights, is one of the great challenges in travel marketing since many of us have come to view flying as an extended stay in an iron maiden. Thus Qantas rates cabin comfort second only to safety, and I can attest it has succeeded in that strategy.
It all begins with the equipment used by the airline. Qantas has a fleet of 12 A380s and nine newly-fitted Boeing 747-400 aircraft. The A380s are used on non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Sydney and to Melbourne. The Qantas A380 features aircraft interiors designed by Qantas Creative Director Marc Newson. The airline also uses six newly-fitted B747s operating on long-haul routes, including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. The Qantas 747 uses the same Newson-designed Skybeds and service as the Qantas A380s.
Qantas’ Skybed sleeper seat features about 500 entertainment options on 10.4-inch in-arm touch screens. Late last year a new sleep service was added to business class that places a mattress over the existing Skybeds on international flights, and uses duvets instead of blankets for extra comfort. The pajamas handed out by the cabin crew, along with Kate Spade New York and Jack Spade amenity kits, have become signature elements of the airline’s service. Many passengers (including me) take the pajamas home.
On the 14-hour segment between Los Angeles and Sydney, passengers in business can choose between several light meals or fuller more formally scheduled meals designed by Australian celebrity chef Neil Perry. Passengers also have more control over their dining experience, with Select on Q-Eat, a service enabling customers to select from a wider menu by choosing their meal and when they would like to dine online up to 24 hours before boarding if they choose.
Qantas in July will begin offering door-to-door chauffeur service to business- and first-class customers on long-haul flights longer than 12 hours, including Los Angeles, Dallas and New York. Passengers will be collected in a luxury vehicle and driven to the airport to meet their flight. On arrival at their destination, they will be met by another chauffeur service and driven to their hotel, office or home.
Business-class passengers have access to lounges in Sydney and Melbourne and in some cases partner lounges overseas. At JFK, for instance, Qantas business-class passengers use the British Airways lounge. In the near future, Qantas will triple the size of its lounge in Los Angeles. Business-class travelers have a separate security check-in, as do Premium Economy passengers, priority check-in, boarding and disembarkation.
As always people are the most important service element and Qantas is putting 11,000 of its front-line staff through new training and next year it will introduce its first new uniforms in a decade.
Just as the American Airlines partnership diversifies the flow of U.S. travelers through that airline’s network, the Qantas-Emirates partnership is opening up Europe, the Middle East and Africa by adding more than 70 one-stop connections. That gives Qantas the ability to adapt to changing market conditions. Now Qantas can pull out of its weakening Frankfurt gate, which it has operated for 61 years, because Emirates flies nine times a day out of Frankfurt to 15 different gates in Australia from Dubai. The resources directed at Frankfurt can now be more profitably applied somewhere else in the system.
Together it all makes Qantas and extremely comfortable and convenient option for your clients. And if you have to fly 22 hours, comfort and convenience is absolutely essential – believe me!