Qantas in 2023: A year in review

Melbourne Australia- March 14, 2014: Qantas airplanes wait for departure at Melbourne Airport

What a year for the Flying Kangaroo!

The national carrier’s financial recovery from COVID may have soared but that certainly didn’t correlate with the airline’s ever-so rocky reputation.

All the carrier’s drama meant Aussies haven’t heard quite so much about Qantas in a long time so we thought it’d be good to refresh your memory on what the airline has been through this past year.

So read on for an insight into the great history (well, just 12 months) of Australia’s most iconic travel company.

Coming out of 2022

The travel industry’s collective post-COVID brain means remembering anything close to that time when a spicey cough shut down your business is tough. Collective trauma aside, Qantas’ 2022 woes must be remembered to consider how they came soaring (or plunging) into 2023.

A slew of late and cancelled flights (more on that later), lost bags, high airfares, the constant threat of strikes, lawsuits with various unions, a scathing expose by ABC’s Four Corners, an attempt to purchase Alliance Aviation and much more were all the talk for the first official post-pandemic year for the Flying Roo. Oh, and who could forget when the carrier asked execs to work as baggage handlers!

QantasLink planes on ABC’s Four Corners

It wasn’t looking great for our national carrier, but, to be fair, it wasn’t easy for any travel company to come out of the pandemic that crippled the industry. But as the year carried on the carrier recovered and formed the basis for what would be its biggest profit ever.

Mayday!

Qantas may have kicked off the year by beating out Air New Zealand as AirlineRatings.com’s safest airline, but the start of Qantas’ 2023 was all about its planes crapping themselves.

On 18 January, flight QF144 blew an engine 36 minutes into its flight from Auckland to Sydney. “Mayday!” Was the call that would spark calamity for the Sky-high Marsupial. Though landing safely and receiving praise from aviation professionals on its conduct, Qantas was soon to be known as the airline riddled with troposphere whoopsies and mid-air turnarounds.

This instance was the beginning of a week-long series of reports about Qantas having to turn around mid-flight, smoke in the cabin, engine failures or just general sky-high troubles. It was a short-lived spell of drama for the airline, but indicative of the year ahead.

Who’s gonna be the next boss?

Back on the ground, Qantas was juggling with a real-life soap opera. Despite the popular TV show Succession ending this year, its dramatics were alive and well in the Australian aviation industry.

Former lord supreme of Qantas, Alan Joyce, knew it was time to pull up stumps after 15 years in the hot seat. The airline’s longest-running chief executive experienced quite the tenure with everything from a pie in the face over his pro-gay marriage stance to a company-wide shutdown in 2011. Loved by some, hated by others and a wild combination of emotions from the rest, Joyce knew it was time to hand over the reins.

Joyce copping a literal pie in the face

There were a few names in the hat originally. Qantas’ then CFO Vanessa Hudson (spoilers, she wins) was keen as a bean while the airline’s head of loyalty Olivia Wirth, who has since announced her departure, had the same eagerness – minus the end result.

Ex-Air NZ exec Cam Wallace, who signed on with Qantas in February, was also considered a potential front-runner. But it looked like Qantas was destined to be run by a girlboss.

May rolled around and Hudson’s name was pulled out of the hat! The job of a lifetime was set to arrive after Joyce’s planned retirement in November, but the bean counter would become the head honcho two months earlier than planned amid an abrupt resignation from Joyce.

But why? What changed to make Joyce eject from the cockpit early?

Time to face the music

The cost of living crunch was so intense that Violet Crumbles got jealous and Qantas’ exorbitant airfares warranted a summons for Joyce to face a selection of rigorous senators.

Less than a week after posting a $1.74 billion profit, Qantas execs were dug out over the airline’s alleged influence on the government’s incredibly controversial decision to block additional capacity for Qatar Airways, the airline’s convoluted COVID credits system, its devalued loyalty program, slot hoarding at Sydney Airport, enormous executive bonuses and, of course, why the airline gave Albo’s son access to the chairman’s lounge.

Joyce fronting the senate inquiry

Needless to say, Qantas’ turbulent reputation had now well and truly copped a flogging.

The real kick in the teeth came a few days later when the ACCC announced it was taking our once-beloved national carrier to court. Qantas was accused of advertising tickets for more than 8000 flights it had already cancelled but not removed from sale during 2022, with a $250m penalty sought by the ACCC’s chair. 

We should note that Alan Joyce conveniently sold $17m worth of shares just days after becoming aware of the watchdog’s investigation.

The carrier quickly announced it was cancelling its COVID credit expiry date and would offer cash refunds (though many are still struggling to get their cash back).

Then, despite his efforts to regain face, Joyce threw in the towel and handed over the gear sticks to Hudson two months earlier than planned.

Hudson at the helm

Hudson had the reigns and was immediately looking to give the carrier a fresh coat of reputational paint.

But it wasn’t looking too good for Old Ness because the High Court would soon find Qantas guilty of sacking nearly 1700 ground workers during the COVID pandemic.

The new chief executive, determined on a public relations overhaul, soon posted a sombre apology, hat (figuratively) in hand, acknowledging the airline’s screw-ups.

Hudson apologising on behalf of Qantas

Hudson said the national carrier was investing more than $150m to restore trust and rebuild the reputationally tarnished carrier’s image. She was even caught schlepping it in economy class at one point. An eye-opening task for the C-suiter we’re sure (don’t worry, it wasn’t long before she was back in business).

Out of the skies and back to the senate the Qantas team would soon go, this time to discuss bilateral air rights. Hudson, accompanied by the soon-to-resign board chairman, Richard Goyder, and Qantas’ general counsel Andrew Finch, were back for a three-hour grilling that rehashed many of the same topics in the previous inquiry.

It was characterised by Qantas’ absence of evidence, a noticeably more humble approach than the first time around, and a certain someone who managed to use a family visit to Ireland as a good excuse to miss the grilling of a lifetime.

One of the 11 recommendations given by the inquiry was for Qantas to be busted up and to summon Joyce to face the music (once again).

Goyder at the senate inquiry (ABC News)

It was pretty soon after this that Goyder and Wirth announced their time with the national carrier was nearing its end and a new QantasLink CEO, Rachel Yangoyan, would step up.

Qantas also announced that it would terminate plans to acquire Alliance Aviation and pulled its application for a codeshare agreement with China Eastern following resistance from the ACCC.

This was all capped off by Qantas losing its top spot in the tourism and travel category of Roy Morgan’s 2023 Trusted Brand Awards, much to the glee of the newly crowned Virgin Australia, and a rowdy AGM that saw people getting their mics cut off and shouting at Hudson and Goyder.

The good stuff

Of course, it’s not all a Shakespearean drama for the national carrier. In fact, the Airborne Marsupial clocked up a few brownie points with the environment this year, leading the charge for the sustainable aviation fuel cause. 

The carrier also launched a series of new routes, upped its capacity on many regional, domestic and international routes, made inclusive progression with staff uniform rules, kicked off in-app baggage tracking, made leaps with its upcoming ultra-long-haul Project Sunrise flights, gave staff bonuses and much more!

Rendering of the Qantas planes for ultra-long-haul flights

So, here’s to hoping for more of the good stuff and all-around smooth sailings for our national carrier in 2024!

And if Qantas would like to start paying agents proper commissions again that’d be more than welcome.

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