Qantas Perth Terminal 3 checkin
No staff at the Qantas terminal at Perth Airport last week were able to sell tickets, and the call centre did not answer the phone. Photo: Matt Graham.

Qantas announced last year that it would close airport service desks and sales counters as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Many Australian frequent flyers were concerned that this would lead to disastrous consequences during disruptions or when urgent assistance is needed. Rather than having airport staff on hand to help, customers would be forced to deal with a call centre which is grossly understaffed and not always able to help.

“Ouch, so if you have no status with QF, what you suppose to do if there’s a flight disruption? It take hours for people with no status to get through to the call centre,” one AFF member wrote at the time.

“What are people supposed to do now… wait on a phone line for hours instead. Even with a dedicated urgent phone line, I can still see problems occurring including people missing crucial flights,” another member said.

Qantas dismissed these concerns at the time, telling staff they “will have a team available at the airport to support time sensitive flight management and exceptions”, and that the call centre would be able to handle urgent enquiries.

But that was not my experience last week when I tried to buy a last-minute ticket out of Perth. In fact, it was a total disaster.

My futile attempts to book a Qantas ticket

Last week, on Monday night, I had recently arrived in Perth and was planning to travel onwards to regional WA. But my plans were thwarted when the WA government announced a snap lockdown beginning at midnight with around three hours’ notice. I was no longer able to continue my trip as planned, so decided to simply return to Perth Airport and take a redeye flight that night back to my home on the east coast.

At least, that was the plan… but booking a Qantas ticket proved impossible. (Unfortunately, Virgin Australia & Jetstar had no flights out of Perth that evening.)

With just under 3 hours until the 11.50pm Qantas flight to Melbourne was due to depart, I jumped onto the Qantas website and tried to book a Classic Flight Reward ticket. The Qantas website showed that seats were available, but I kept getting an error message when trying to book.

I gave up and instead tried to book a paid Red e-Deal ticket online. Again, I received repeated error messages and never made it to the payment page. I tried everything but simply could not make a booking on the Qantas website, so travelled to the airport in the hope I’d be able to buy a ticket there instead.

The scene at the airport was utter chaos when I arrived with around an hour until departure. There were only three Qantas staff in the check-in area. Two were on hold trying to get through to the call centre in order to help other customers. Several other passengers were also on hold, trying unsuccessfully to get through to the call centre to sort out their own bookings.

I approached the other staff member, who was helping customers with the self-service check-in kiosks. This staff member informed me that nobody at the airport was trained in ticketing. There was no sales desk and nobody at the airport was able to sell me a ticket.

The staff member instead gave me the phone number of the Qantas ticketing desk. I’m sure they would have helped further if they could, but that was the extent of the assistance they were able to provide.

I called the ticketing desk and waited, waited and waited some more on hold. I was still on hold when the flight closed and I ended up watching the flight depart without me. There were plenty of empty seats.

Ultimately, I had to leave the airport and find a place to stay in Perth just as the city was about to enter lockdown. I wasn’t the only person at the airport who couldn’t make it onto a flight that night.

Meanwhile, I had also contacted my travel agent who was able to make a reservation but couldn’t get it ticketed. He also tried calling Qantas, as a Platinum member, but it took 38 minutes for the call to be answered. By that time, the flight had closed.

Airport sales counters closed with no adequate alternative

I’m still not sure why I wasn’t able to book a ticket on the Qantas website. According to section 14.2.2 of the Qantas Frequent Flyer terms & conditions, “Classic Flight Rewards may be booked up to two hours before the scheduled departure for domestic flights” when booking on Qantas.com. Furthermore, the ticketing of revenue airfares should be possible until 30 minutes prior to departure. I started trying to book around 2.5 hours before departure.

By the time I contacted my travel agent, there was just under an hour until departure. According to the fare rules for a Qantas Red e-Deal ticket, that should have been fine as ticketing should be possible up to 30 minutes before departure in cases where a reservation is created less than 90 minutes before departure.

Qantas "Q" class ticketing deadlines
Qantas fare rules regarding ticketing deadlines for “Q” class Red e-Deal fares.

However, it seems Qantas has filed its red e-Deal fares incorrectly as ticketing was ultimately not possible within 60 minutes of departure. That’s likely why my travel agent was unable to ticket the booking 54 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

But, ultimately, this disaster could have been avoided if Qantas had not closed its airport sales desks without replacing them with an adequate alternative. Directing customers to the call centre is not helpful when it is not staffed appropriately and nobody answers the phone. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to still be waiting on hold when check-in closed.

What does Qantas have to say about this?

A Qantas spokesperson told me that the website and call centre were experiencing very high demand that evening due to multiple state governments announcing border restrictions around the same time. The airline acknowledged that some people were unable to book tickets due to the large number of people trying to book within a short space of time.

“Last week was far from business as usual, with a large number of state borders closing on short notice,” the Qantas spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately this put huge pressure on our contact centres, website and airports teams as thousands of customers tried to change their travel plans quickly.”

Qantas says it has made a number of technology improvements since the start of the pandemic to make it easier for customers to manage their own travel. The airline has also recently made some changes in an attempt to fix the call centre, and says that more staff are currently being trained.

That’s well and good, but selling tickets is a basic function of any airline. I find it staggering that it was impossible to buy a ticket online, at the airport and over the phone.

Inevitably, more customers will be caught out in the future when needing to book or change their travel plans urgently – potentially leading to disastrous consequences for some.

Sorry, Qantas – this was an epic fail.

 

You can join the discussion about Qantas’ decision to close airport sales desks & service counters on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qantas to shut airport service desks, force customers onto self-service

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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Robert Stewart

This is what happens when you have management that doesn’t understand the fundamentals of a business.

MikeG

I would have tried booking on the AA website. QF have been truly woeful with the customer service for years, but this takes the cake.

Robert

This is an awful story, and must have been even more awful to endure, but I think that at times of external shock, like a trigger happy state government closing travel with three hours’ notice, it really would be difficult for any system to cope. The reality is that staffing is now skeletal to limit losses: Qantas is no longer government-owned and is no longer a monopoly provider: they don’t have a duty to staff to cater for risks caused by other parties. I think the broader point of concern about few staff at the airport for general requirements is… Read more »

PADDY WALSH

Why did you think that they were in a SERVICE industry ? No they are in a money for shareholder profit business ! Look at every cost saving idea Mr Joyce has had, not one improves the customer experience, and most turn the idea of flying into a nightmare, although being Platinum One helps, one can see the effect all these cuts have on the people without status.

William Wood

All businesses are in a “shareholder for profit business”. Otherwise they wouldn’t exist. However, the profit is derived from providing a service to their customers who pay money for the service (or goods). All travel related businesses have lost huge amounts of money in the last 18 months and will continue t do so for another 12 months probably. They are trying stay in business until they can start making a profit again.
Having said that, Qantas should definitely be providing better service in this difficult time.

ozstamps

Outrageous.

Paul

This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if you could just adjust flights online but I have the issue with flights to NZ at the end of the month where my night flight was cancelled and I was subsequently switched to a morning flight but my connecting flight is still at the same time (in the afternoon) which is a complete mess.

The only option I have is to call them, which from the long lines doesn’t sound too good.

amber

We had a Qantas time change which affected return connections and were never notified . Found out by accident during the outbound flight and fortunately had time to change flights. I alerted Qantas but heard nothing about it from them. What kind of airline changes your flights without notifying you? Qantas! What airline changes your booking status from Business to Economy without a refund for the difference? You got it -Qantas What airline changes the date of your flight to the previous day, leaving you to scramble for connecting flights back home, and cutting your holiday short? .. with no… Read more »

Daniel Kavan

Wow that’s a truly terrible experience! Re-open the service desks, no brainer.

Gregory

They seem to be making changes to my connecting flights which obviously don’t work. The second departure being before the first one even arrives. Waited on phone for 2 hours last night and gave up.

Flying out tomorrow to Perth so will try at the service desk in the lounge but not holding my breathe.

And they even took my points used to upgrade even though i physically cannot make the flight they have assigned me.

Very frustrating with no level of service.

Paul Greenfield

As a loyal QF traveller 🧳 I was horrified to read this story. Cmon QF, you’re better than that..or used to be

Peter Simpson

A suggestion. If Qantas are so confident about the booking/ticketing etc opportunities then they should have no trouble at all in setting up a Qantas Travellers Ombudsman. An independent body, but with the power to guarantee that Qantas passengers do not get totally neglected. While I know Joyce wouldn’t even consider such a thing, your experience exemplifies yet again why people will desert Qantas in droves once we have more alternatives. I’d go so far as to suggest that Qantas will end up almost giving up on the international business once COVID is over. The competition will be about service;… Read more »

Adam

Once customers send invoices for compensation and cost-recovery to Qantas and any other airlines treating customers like dirt, they’ll adequately resource the service/sales desks and call-centre at the drop of a hat, as the costs will rack up way beyond any ‘savings’ that management fantasise about.
Can only imagine how frustrating this situation would’ve been, totally unacceptable for a ‘premium’ carrier.
I’d even expect better from a 3rd world airline.

robbo

First world problems, get a grip dude. The biggest issue I see here is not QF, its being stuck in ferral Perth for however long the Emperor of WA decides to keep his subjects locked up un-necessarily. Poor Perth, Poor WA, but ultimately, they get what they deserve. I just wish WA would secede and then NSW won’t have to bale them out every time the iron ore price crashes and burns. We in the East are sick to death of WA moaning.

Frank

Just remind me when the iron ore prices crashed and burned. Name the States which have bailed out WA in your lifetime. We in the West are thoroughly sick of the patronising comments such as yours towards the State that is basically keeping this country afloat. When our supposed ‘National’ carrier can’t provide something as basic as selling a ticket on an aircraft flight just about to leave, I have to remind you where that hopeless airline is based.

Caroline Lane

Qantas is a shadow of its former self. It’s near impossible to get through. We had flights cancelled last March when overseas. We tried for 3 days, via phone, email, messenger. Nothing. We ended up having to buy new flights on a different carrier. Took till July to get someone on the phone and December to get a refund. I feel for the staff. They must be under so much pressure. What happened to the 2 billion us taxpayers gave Qantas. I won’t be flying Qantas OS again. They are totally unreliable. Unfortunately I don’t have that option domestically.

Iain Murray

Ridiculous Qantas…It takes on average one hour to get to the on-line service team. For a simple issue I had recently, it took five attempts for them to resolve the problem. Five hours just on waiting time alone. We just need to vote with our feet – Air New Zealand is a great option if flying the ditch. Their service is second to none and I’ve tried more and more to use them rather than the shoddy service from Q. Q is OK if everything works fine, but one slip and its slow, painful and frustrating. Well done Alan for… Read more »

Mick

I think we need to oust the management of Qantas not just desert the airline, we need Qantas in the sky.

Michael

This is the fault of the very top, he is driving the business under, he has been there far too long and a top business manager needs to be brought in to put the airline back into a customer friendly situation. It is not there at the moment and has been there for a long while.

IanB

Yep – SHORT SIGHTED is an understatement. DUMB is being kind…

Rob

There is no customer service. Today I had to make 3 calls, as not able to do what I wanted by webpage and directed to call the FF help line. Two calls musaked for over an hour each then disconnected as soon as I started speaking. They had my FF details as inputed but could not be bothered to call me back. The third call was also over an hr waiting time, and then another hr to solve a simple issue. 4 1/2 hours wasted in total. Where are the 1000’s of staff tax payers are paying to keep on… Read more »

amber

I was recently on a delayed flight from NYC to SFO, connecting with a QF flight to Sydney. We needed QF to wait 15-30 minutes for the 6 passengers (4 Platinum) to get on board but they took off without us. 10.30 pm – no flights for 2 days and no hotel bookings. Qantas could have made up that time no problem, and given that almost every Qantas flight has us waiting for up to several hours, I would have thought it would have waited for us. But I have come to expect nothing from Qantas any more so they… Read more »

Jill Bennett

An absolute horror story but “epic fail” is the line used to describe much of what Qantas does. More and more they push you to organize everything yourself but then don’t provide you with the systems that allow it. Always excuses. Given up on them to be honest.

Bron Conlon

if you can believe it my experience on the Gold Coast last week was worse! We had booked rewards flights the night before, had our booking confirmation number and even logged on and did seat allocation! When we arrived at the airport they said there was a problem with the payment and it hadn’t processed Even though they could see the booking in their system they could not check us in and could not fix the payment The only option we were given was to leave the check in desk and ring the call centre ourselves As with you, we… Read more »