Most people prefer planes when bits don’t fall off
By now there should be a persistent warning light flashing in the cockpit of the good ship Qantas. It’s indicating that a large mass of brand confidence among the Australian public is smouldering strongly, emitting smoke and may be about to drop off the starboard wing into the sea.
It used to be welded on but there’s definitely a crack appearing.
This week at Auspoll we thought it would be fascinating to test whether the recent run of technical problems which have plagued the Flying Kangaroo have made any tangible dent in our perception of the airline’s hitherto ‘safe as houses’ image. And it set the red light flashing.
It was Oscar Wilde who said ‘to lose one jet engine mid-flight may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose three looks like carelessness’. Well, he wasn’t talking about jet engines really, but a great many other people are in recent days. And his essential point holds; one incident we might shrug off, another almost immediately gets our close attention, but when we get a third hard on its heels there is a strong inclination to perceive a worrying wider problem.
Jet engines are things few of us want to talk about or think about generally. Much better when they’re boring because they just work flawlessly, first time, every time. What’s to talk about? But a certain route to water-cooler topicality is to explode and burn while attached to the wing of a huge airliner full of passengers 10,000 metres above the sea. Gets tongues wagging.
We surveyed 1,500 people across Australia and firstly asked them to rate a range of airlines according to their perception of how safe they are. Qantas can take some heart from this with 69% rating them either quite safe or very safe. Before they open champagne in the boardroom however, they might note that of the six rival airlines we asked people to rate, three of them ranked higher than Qantas. And the strongest score - 83% rating it safe - went to their pesky rival Virgin Blue.
There is another irritating dashboard alarm flashing in the negative responses to this question. For five of the six airlines, the proportions of people rating them quite unsafe or very unsafe ranged between 3% and 6%. The standout was (sound intermittent siren) Qantas – 21% of respondents felt it was unsafe.
Next we asked people outright whether the recent problems had affected their confidence in our national flagship airline. Only a minority of respondents said the incidents had not affected their confidence in Qantas at all, with 40% saying they had reduced it a little and a further 25% saying they had reduced it a lot. Overall, 65% less confident in the Red Roo than before.
We also asked what people thought of the expanding competition on overseas routes with the entry of new players such as the recently announced alliance of Virgin Blue and Etihad. Australians are keen travellers and pretty savvy about looking for value. A resounding 67% thought new competitors will improve things for those heading OS.
And lastly we asked whether the recent woes would make people more likely to choose a rival carrier over once trusty old Qantas. Almost half (48%) said the incidents would make no difference, but the 41% who said they would make them more likely to choose another carrier set off the last warning light on the console. That cockpit must look like a disco by now.
On these results, the appropriate disposition for Qantas senior management about now would be both alert and alarmed. Put the fire out, give everyone a drink. Panic never helps.
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