Poor old Qantas. A once great airline is about to get into bed with Emirates, a strong and powerful competitor which has shown Qantas a thing or two about successfully running an airline.
For some, it’s a case of the old saying “if you can’t beat them, join them”. For others, it’s just the end result of a repeated failure by Qantas to respond in a smart and timely manner to the ever-changing international aviation market.
So how did Qantas get into its current state? Well, it’s a long story but there are a number of recurring themes. First, Qantas has repeatedly failed to respond to the international aviation market in a manner that allows it to get ahead of its competitors. While the emergence of Emirates and Etihad was changing the landscape, Qantas didn’t really know how to respond. For years Qantas was happy to stick by its “oneworld” alliance anchored by British Airways and American Airlines.
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The whole airline business is built on insanely small margins. So it’s hardly a surprise to learn overnight that Jetstar makes its pittance of a profit not from ticket sales but from the sale of muffins and other “food” on board.
Note the inverted commas around the word food. As American satirist Dave Barry once said: “Airline food is not intended for human consumption. It’s intended as a form of in-flight entertainment, wherein the object is to guess what it is, starting with broad categories such as ‘mineral’ and ‘linoleum’.”
Overpriced food aside, Australian budget airlines are not all that bad. Sure, Jetstar’s a bit bogan and Virgin Blue’s a bit like a branch of the Church of the Almighty Cult of His Supreme Hipness Richard Branson. But mostly, they’re OK.
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Soaring fuel costs are driving airlines to come up with increasingly novel, and amusing, ways of lightening their loads.
There have been reports of the carriers washing their planes more often to reduce drag, cleaning cabins of dropped coins and cutlery, and even pondering the use of thinner paper in their in-flight magazines to drop weight.
But it’s pretty clear they’re ignoring the elephant in the aircraft here: Fat customers.
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An upstart Thai airline recently revealed that it had begun hiring “third sex” staff. By third sex, the airline means trannies. Pre-op, post-op, they don’t appear all that fussed; apparently they’re an inconclusive mob over there at PC Air.
A win for the rights of transgender and transsexual people the world over? Hmm. I’m 30. Not so young, but certainly so, so cynical.
I’m guessing that the airline name comes from the initials of the founder, Peter Chan, although in the West, PC has connotations centred on computers. And politics. The later, no doubt, underpins the temptation to rejoice.
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The key take out that everyone in Australia got from the recent Qantas incident in Singapore is that pilot experience is critically important.
As more and more information filters about just how serious the situation was with QF32, pilot training and experience are being widely acknowledged, from the CEO of Qantas down, as having arguably made the difference.
Given the travails of Qantas over recent weeks, you would think that Jetstar would think twice about its absurd plans to put less and less experienced pilots in the cockpit of its aircraft.
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No one ever said it was easy being a multi-billion dollar airline provider.
The rise of low-cost airlines has lead to the cost of airfare plummeting as competition becomes fierce – prices become transparent, comparisons are easier, fuel costs are up, and airlines have been cutting as much cost as possible in order to both make trafficking people cheaper, and keeping ahead of the competitor by offering the cheapest prices.
I still fondly remember my first flight, where at the tender age of fifteen, I was on a plane from Sydney to the Gold Coast with a complimentary muffin and watching episodes of Mr.Bean on the screens. Those days are long gone.
1. Everything is now an optional extra:
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Next year, airlines plan to charge passengers to breathe.
It will be 36c for a short, sharp breath – the type taken by those who fear flying – and 54c per deep inhalation, for those who excise that fear through meditation.
All that oxygen pumped into the cabin costs money. And the less you breathe, the less it costs cash-strapped airlines – many of which are on the brink of bankruptcy.
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What is it about air travel that evokes in people such morbid fascination?
In his recent essay, A Week at the Airport, philosopher Alain de Botton reckoned that, basically, we’re all both petrified of, and obsessed by, air travel because our various religions have successfully instilled in us a prevailing awe of the skies, of the heavens and of whatever else goes on above the clouds:
“Despite its seeming mundanity, the ritual of flying remains indelibly linked, even in secular times, to the momentous themes of existence. We have heard about too many ascensions, too many voices from heaven, too many airborne angels and saints to ever be able to regard the business of flight from an entirely pedestrian perspective, as we might, say, the act of travelling by train.”
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Next week I’m headed to Japan for a two week break. I tell you this not because I think you have any particular interest in my holiday plans, but because I suspect I’m flying on the same Jetstar plane that had a blackout on the way back from Japan a couple of weeks ago.
For those who haven’t heard this story, the Herald-Sun reported today that a Jetstar plane had an instrument blackout during flight from Japan to the Gold Coast last week as it flew through storm clouds. The problems that affected the airspeed indicators on the Jestar Airbus 330-200 were similar to those reported by the Air France pilot of a similar 330-200 before the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all on board.
No sooner had I finished reading this story with a mix of novelty (hey that’s my flight) and horror (oh my God that’s my flight) did I read about the stuff up on a Melbourne to Sydney QANTAS flight.
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Virgin Blue has posted a $ 160m loss. I should feel sorry for Dicky Branson. But instead I just want to slap him around a bit and say “boo hoo”.
Here’s the scenario.
I’m sitting at Sydney airport experiencing two emotions that are gratingly familiar – outraged and helpless. My flight (do I really have to add “as usual”?) has been delayed. First by 10 minutes, then by another five, then by an extra 20. That’s the official line, but there’s no sense we’ll be heading skyward any time soon.
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