Q&A: Standing Firm


It’s been a tough time for Qantas, with job cuts in Australia and a reduction in the size of the airline’s fleet. But, as Africa’s Regional Manager Michi Messner explains, South Africa remains an important destination for the Australian carrier, and Qantas has a clear vision regarding how it plans to ensure its sustainability and relevance in what is an increasingly competitive market.

Q: What is the Qantas view on Africa, in terms of growth and potential?

A: South Africa is a key market for Qantas, particularly with our business travellers. Qantas has operated services to South Africa for over 65 years, and continues to be the only carrier to operate non-stop services between Sydney and Johannesburg. Qantas has a strong relationship with South African Tourism and is committed to a range of marketing initiatives to promote South Africa as a destination. Qantas fares also allow onward connections to other destinations in Africa with interline partner Comair.

Q: Does the end of the SAA codeshare fit in with this view, or were there other reasons for the end of this relationship?

A: Qantas will continue to fly to Johannesburg from Sydney, with no change to the daily service we operate with our B747s. Regulators had previously indicated that an extension of the codeshare beyond December 2014 was unlikely, so winding it up earlier means we can create new options for those customers travelling between Perth and Johannesburg.

Q: Post-global economic downturn, have you seen a noticeable return to more Business Class fares on the Johannesburg route?

A: Our Business cabin remains very popular with our customers travelling on business, as well as the leisure market who enjoy the premium experience on the 14-hour flight.

Q: What’s the future of First Class travel and what will ensure it’s sustainable?

A: The First cabin remains a popular choice for both our business and high-end leisure travellers, and is available on our A380 aircraft travelling from Sydney to Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne to London via Dubai, and from Sydney to Los Angeles. As a result, we continue to consult experts such as chef Neil Perry and industrial designer Marc Newson, who designed the A380 interiors, award-winning Skybed and Qantas First Lounge.

Q: What impact will the Qantas job cuts in Australia and reduction in fleet size have on the airline’s South African operation?

A: Our priorities are to strengthen the core of our business and protect the sources of our long-term competitive advantage. We have begun taking action to permanently reduce costs in all parts of the Qantas Group, including fleet and network changes, productivity improvements, consolidation of business activities, new technology and procurement savings.

Q: Will we see a change in the aircraft used on the Sydney-Johannesburg route?

A: Right now, we are very comfortable with our position in this market and will continue to operate the Boeing 747 between Johannesburg and Sydney.

Q: Are you concerned that negative sentiment regarding Qantas in Australia may impact business and brand loyalty in the rest of the world?

A: Our focus right now is on delivering for our customers, which is the best brand work you can do. We know how satisfied our customers are with our service and product, and we will keep investing to improve. We will maintain our customer service training and business-wide commitment to excellence, continue our A330 reconfiguration project to deliver best-in-class experience in the domestic and international product, and open world class lounges over the next couple of months in Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

Q: As a member of the BARSA executive committee, what do you think the biggest issues facing Africa’s airlines are?

A: They are very similar to those being faced around the world. Qantas is a global airline and it’s a competitive aviation market. Australia has been hit by a giant wave of new airline seat capacity from foreign airlines, many of whom have far lower labour costs. Qantas is also facing record high fuel costs.

Q: Will we ever get to a point where ‘open skies’ are embraced by the majority of Africa’s nations?

A: Whilst the benefits of deregulated markets are apparent, many other considerations will ultimately determine the paths governments take.

Q: What are your thoughts on on-board connectivity and the role it plays in business travel?

A: In 2012 Qantas trialled Wi-Fi Internet connectivity on selected aircraft in its A380 fleet. Whilst customers who used the Wi-Fi service told us that they valued the option to connect in-flight, overall the trial demonstrated a lower than expected take-up of the service, and as such we decided not to offer the service across our A380 fleet on a permanent basis.