Qantas really, really wants you to know it’s the Australian national carrier.
For some reason, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has used the term “national carrier” at just about every opportunity when talking to the media in recent months. In fact, by our count, around two-thirds of Qantas media releases have included the “national carrier” line since the Australian government started requiring returning international travellers to self-isolate in mid-March.
The term “national carrier” appeared three times in a recent press release about Qantas ending its sponsorship of Australian sports.
“The national carrier is offering triple points”, they told us when announcing a new Qantas Frequent Flyer promotion in June.
And it’s not just Alan Joyce. Qantas Domestic and International CEO Andrew David felt it somehow necessary to throw the “national carrier” line into last Wednesday’s announcement of new flights between Sydney and Launceston – a route both Jetstar and Virgin Australia have already served for years.
“As the national carrier, we’re delighted to add direct flights between Launceston and Sydney for the first time in 16 years,” Mr David said.
Even Qantas pilots have introduced “as the national carrier” to their on-board announcements. While welcoming passengers on board QF112, a recent repatriation flight from India, the captain said:
On behalf of the entire crew of this special flight, we’re delighted to be taking you home to Australia. As the national carrier, that’s something we’re really proud to do.
I have no doubt that’s true. I just wonder if it’s a coincidence this exact line was thrown in when the pilot knew he was being filmed and the video was shared by Qantas’ social media team.
Why is Qantas doing this?
So, why does Qantas keep reminding us that it’s the national carrier? Does it think we’ve all forgotten?
I’m not quite sure of the answer to this, but my best guess is that it’s a political lobbying device. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Qantas has been lobbying for more government assistance to enable Qantas to continue operating domestic and some international flights (fair enough). Qantas has also been using its weight “as the national carrier” to try to pressure politicians into reopening state borders.
Or perhaps, as Qantas turns 100 years old, the public company wants to remind Australians how important they are to the nation. “As the national carrier, this is something we are proud to do”, Alan Joyce also said while announcing the latest round of Australian taxpayer-funded repatriation flights bringing 1,315 stranded Aussies from the UK, India and South Africa to Darwin. (Let’s ignore the fact that Qantas stopped operating international flights on a commercial basis as soon as the border shut, leaving Qatar Airways to do the heaving lifting in bringing back Australians stuck overseas.)
Or, maybe Qantas just wants to rub salt into the wounds of Virgin Australia while they’re down. I’m not too sure.
Is Qantas really “the” national carrier?
Even so, whether Qantas is in fact the only national carrier is a matter of debate. Sure, most Australians would consider Qantas to be the national carrier. (At least, they do now after hearing Alan Joyce say so ad nauseam!) And Qantas has a proud Australian history dating back to 1920 that Virgin, a newer entrant, doesn’t. But Qantas hasn’t been owned by the Australian government since it was privatised in 1993.
By pure definition, Virgin Australia could be considered just as much a “national carrier” as Qantas. Both airlines operated government-funded repatriation flights to bring home Australians throughout April and May. And Qantas does not receive prefential access to slots or air routes – it has to compete with Virgin for those rights, as it very publicly did (and lost) when new slots at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport became available last year.
“National carrier” is the new “mini First Class”
I’m starting to wonder if “national carrier” has become the new “mini First Class”. For years, Qantas told us at every possible opportunity that frequent flyers nicknamed its Boeing 787 Business class seats “mini First Class” – even though most actual frequent flyers disagreed. Just like the “mini First Class” line, most of the media has now adopted the “national carrier” line too.
I’m not saying that Qantas has done anything wrong, nor that it doesn’t deserve to be the flag carrier (although Virgin may disagree). Qantas is a national icon that has brought a lot of good to Australia in its 100-year history. I just can’t help wondering whether the recent overuse of the “national carrier” line is part of a deliberate strategy.