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Biblia brings down Qantas

Airline advertisement Going to a conference? Need to make travel arrangements? Booked your airline ticket 6 months in advance? Ahhh. Nothing to worry about then. Not! The following is a semi-verbatim record of a cautionary tale for all travellers, but also a warning for corporations ...

January 28, 2004: The Warrior Librarian pays AUD$240.50 to reputable travel agency, for economy return airfare from Sydney (departing 12.20pm) to Gold Coast to attend library conference, and returning 2.10pm the following day.

February 27, 2004: The Warrior Librarian receives phone call from Travel Agency (TA)

TA: Hello, is that [Warrior Librarian's daytime identity]?
WL: Yes.
TA: This is [travel agency].  We're just letting 
you know that you won't be flying on Qantas flights on
June 29th and 30th.  The flight numbers have been changed, 
but times are approximately the same.  You're now going
on the new Jetstar flights.
WL: Oh.  What if I don't want to fly with them?
TA: Well, you've been taken off the Qantas flights, and they're
now all booked out.
WL: OK.  I don't mind flying el-cheapo airlines, but only at
el-cheapo rates.  So I'll be getting the difference refunded?
TA: Errr ... you'll be getting $40 back; that's a $20 refund
for each leg of the trip.
WL: What?!!!  You've got to be joking!!!
TA: No, sorry.  That's Qantas' scheduled refund.  You'll have
to come in and sign a refund claim.
WL: Sigh.  I'll be in some time next week.
(Mutual salutations)

That evening at whilst driving home at approximately 9pm [don't ask] and listening to the car radio, "shock jock" Steve Zemanek's (SZ) Talk-back Radio Show is discussing the introduction of the Jetstar service, and about the cheap fares. At about 9.30pm, on arrival home, the Warrior Librarian makes a phone call ...

Ommitting the conversation with the switchboard, etc:
WL: Hello, Steve.  I thought you might be interested in 
my experiences so far with Jetstar.
SZ: Yes, go ahead.
WL: ... relates previous section.
SZ: Well, that's disgraceful!  We'll see what we can do
about getting you a better deal.

Complete transcripts can be purchased from the radio station, for those who need verification, or are looking for some non-mainstream amusement.

Back to switchboard, same details all over again

Monday March 1, a phone call is received from the Qantas Media Liaison (QLM} office.

QML: This is [name withheld at time of writing] from 
Qantas Media Liaison.  I understand you have a complaint.
WL: ...reiteration of previous ...
QML: Well, that's nothing to do with Qantas.  Your travel
agent changed the booking.  They aren't allowed to do that
without your consent.
WL: My understanding is that they informed me of the change
after they had received an emailed notification from Qantas, that
Qantas had changed the flight schedules and moved the passengers around.
QML: I'll have to get back to you on that. I'll phone you tomorrow.
WL: Thank you.  I'll talk to you tomorrow then.
QLM: Goodbye.
(Phone line goes dead.)

Tuesday March 2, a phone call is received from the travel agent:

TA: Hi!  Here's some good news! Qantas have put you back 
onto their flights, but the time have changed.  You're 
flying out of Sydney at 6.45pm on June 29th, and flying 
out of the Gold Coast at 9.45am on June 30.
WL: Actually, that's not good news.  I'm giving a keynote
address on the 29th, and need to be there soon after lunchtime.
On the 30th, I'm giving a presentation mid morning, so there's
no point flying out of there at 9.45am.  Aren't there any other
TA: Well, there's one leaving Sydney at 7.45am.
WL: No good.  I have to drop my kids at school at 8.30(am).
TA: What do you want Qantas to do?
WL: They could fly me up there by private jet. As if! Failing
that, I could take the 6.45pm flight the night before,
but Qantas would have to pay for the extra night's accomodation.
TA: I'll get back to them and ask...
(Mutual salutations)

A short time later, a phone call from the radio program's research assistant (RRA) off air ...

RRA: Hi!  Did it all get sorted out?
WL: No. Actually, it's worse.  Now I can't meet my
conference commitments at all.
RRA: Did Qantas Media Liaison get back to  you?
WLW: No.
RRA: It might be best if  you contact them direct. 
(Gives phone number}. Let us know how you get on.
(Mutual salutations)

Seconds later, the Warrior Librarian phones the Qantas Media Liaison Center ...

WL: ...explains problem with reallocated flights... QML: Well, you should have told us what times you needed to travel. WL: Well, I would have, if anyone had asked me! QML: We couldn't ask you because no-one had your phone number. WL: Come on, you KNOW that passengers always supply a contact phone number when they make a booking. QML: Yes, but only the travel agent has that number. NOTE: All airlines have passengers' phone contacts WL: So what happens now? QML: I'll get a sales representative to phone you. WL:Could you please make sure that they have both my mobile phone number and my home land-line? QML: Yes. (Phone line goes dead)

Five minutes later, the travel agent phones again:

TA: Hi! We've rebooked you on the Jetstar flights through
Jetstar's web site.  The flight times have changed a little
from the original, but you're leaving Sydney at 10.45am then
leaving the Gold Coast at 2.40pm the next day.
WL: That's great!  So what fare am I paying? Full economy
or advertised rate?
TA: You're paying $89 each way, and Qantas are now going to
give you a full refund on your original fare.  But it takes
6 to 8 weeks to get the refund recredited to your bank account.
WL: Why does it take so long?  They debit the amount almost
TA: I don't know.  We fax the refund claim immediately, then
it takes them 6 to 8 weeks.
WL: Sigh.  OK.  Many thanks for all your help.
(Mutual salutations)

Two hours later, the Sales Representitive from Qantas (SRQ)phones ...

SRQ: Hello.  This is [name] from Qantas.  I understand
you want to change your flight bookings.
WL: No.  Actually, they've been changed enough.
As far as I'm aware, everything is now fixed.  Although
I am concerned that its going to take 6 to 8 weeks to
get a refund.
SRQ: Well, it depends on how long it takes your travel
agent to organise the paperwork.  After we get it, then it
takes 6 to 8 weeks.
WL: Yes, that's what the travel agent said.
SRQ: Well, I'm glad we could help.
(Mutual salutations)

Wednesday June 3, a phone call from the Radio show (off air) ...

RRA: Hi!  Is it all sorted out?
WL: Well, I'm flying in and out on Jetstar, at 
the advertised price.  Qantas is going to refund my whole
economy air fare from the original booking, but I have to
wait 6 to 8 weeks for the refund. I'm happy to talk with 
Steve [the radio announcer] on air about it if he wants to.
RRA: We'll get back to you.
(Mutual salutations)

Later that night, on air with Steve Zemanek ...

WL: ... describes above saga ...
SZ: Well, that's just not good enough.  You should phone
[names travel agency] and find out why it takes that long
to get a refund.
WL: Actually, Steve, both the travel agency and Qantas have
confirmed that the hold-up is with Qantas.
SZ: So who do you think was to blame for the original
changes to your flights?
WL: I don't know, Steve.  But judging by the service
and treatment from both, I'd be voting based on who has
been the most helpful ...
SZ: [assorted comments]
WL: Well, Steve, I'm just happy that I'm now able
to get to the conference.  I'm flying the cheaper airline
at the advertised price, and getting a full refund on the
original full fare that I paid - eventually. Which is all
I wanted to do in the first place, after I found out that
I couldn't fly on my original first choice.  Not that I
was given any choice.
SZ: When you get back, can you phone us and let us know
what you think about the cut-price service?
WL: Sure thing, Steve.  I just hope that not too many
other people have to go through all of this just to get 
a fair deal!
{Music cuts in. Being live, the radio show is on a seven-second 
delay, so the last statement may not have gone to air. Which
is sort of a shame, because the unintentional pun on fair/fare
was pretty good.)

Thurday March 4, the travel agent phones ...

TA: Hi! I've just spoken with Qantas, and you should be getting your refund in about a week.

March 18 (two weeks later): Refund from Qantas gets re-credited to bank account. This is only a week late - and sets a new record for Qantas Refunding.


Summary: $240.50 was originally paid, with a total refund of $40 offered. The final fare on the amended flights was $160.00, a saving of $79.50 to the travelling passenger. This is a mere $39.50 more than the original refund offered.

Costs to Qantas? One Melbourne to Sydney phone call, plus one Brisbane to Sydney phone call, plus faxes to the travel agent, and an unknown amount of staff time, for starters. Probably an insignificant amount, compared to the tarnishing of the company's corporate image, which will of course be rectified by amended procedures - together with another multimillion dollar advertising campaign. Just to save the company less than 40 bucks!

Costs to the Warrior Librarian? Zero. (Apart from the phone call to Brisbane.) The flights were financed by the conference organising committee, who now have an additional $79.50 to spend on something worthwhile and/or useful.

Postscript: Neither the best-case scenario (the red carpet treatment) nor the worst-case scenario (roof-top snipers) eventuated. The flight was uneventful, the aircraft was decrepit, the coffee - served in paper cups with the ubiquitous coffee bag at $2.50 - was awful.

March 6, 2004
Updated April 14, 2004