Bloomberg News

Honeymooners Stranded as Qantas Seeks to Break Labor Unions

October 31, 2011

(Updates with flights resuming in third paragraph.)

Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Simon Moss was celebrating at his wedding reception when he learned that Qantas Airways Ltd. had grounded its fleet because of a labor dispute. Like thousands of people worldwide, his travel plans were thrown into chaos.

“Qantas has broken my trust,” the 28-year-old gold frequent flyer member said from Sydney yesterday as he tried to rearrange flights to Melbourne before his honeymoon. “It is ridiculous that the company and its executives have held the Australian public and passengers to ransom.”

The nation’s biggest carrier resumed flights today and put on extra staff after the grounding stranded 80,000 passengers at the weekend. Tourism officials have warned the dispute over pay and job-security guarantees threatens the nation’s A$94 billion ($99 billion) tourism industry already suffering from a high Australian dollar and an economic slowdown.

Four Qantas check-in counters were open at Melbourne airport earlier today as about 60 people lined up to enquire about flights.

Terri Williams, 50, whose 8:30 a.m. service to Perth was canceled, said she managed to book onto a late afternoon flight. “Qantas couldn’t do enough for us,” she said, preparing to head home after a three-week vacation. “They’ve just put us on a different flight and haven’t charged us any extra money.”

Terminal Deserted

At Sydney airport yesterday, where the Qantas terminal was almost deserted and the flight status screens were empty, passengers condemned Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce’s Oct. 29 move to halt flights worldwide.

“I won’t fly Qantas again,” Les Cornford, a 63-year-old retiree from Somerset in England, said at the airport on discovering his flight to Cairns had been canceled yesterday. His wife Jackie, 58, said they had been saving up for the three- month holiday in Australia for two years.

“We don’t know how Qantas got away with grounding flights so suddenly,” said Tracy Hitchcock, 62, who is traveling with her husband Steve and the Cornfords. The couple are due to fly back to the U.K. from Brisbane on Nov. 4.

Seventeen heads of state attending a summit in Perth had to look for other flights home because of the suspension. Most leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting had found alternatives by yesterday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. Organizers have declined to identify the leaders involved.

The Commonwealth is an association of 54 nations derived from Britain and many of its former colonies.

Virgin, Jetstar

Virgin Australia, the nation’s No. 2 carrier, and Jetstar added extra flights to help stranded passengers. Coach operator Greyhound Australia said booking inquiries increased about 60 percent yesterday as people sought alternative arrangements.

Keeping 108 planes that fly from 22 airports worldwide on the ground would cost the airline A$20 million a day, Joyce told reporters in Sydney Oct. 29.

Qantas recommenced services with a flight from Sydney to Jakarta carrying 88 passengers shortly after 3:40 p.m. local time today after the Civil Aviation Safety Authority approved a resumption, a spokeswoman for the carrier said by telephone, asking not to be named in line with company policy.

Newlywed Moss, chief operations officer for the Global Poverty Project charity in London, said he was able to get flights to Melbourne with Virgin Australia. He and his wife will have less time to see family and friends there before traveling to Tanzania, he said.

“I’m glad I didn’t book with Qantas to go on my honeymoon,” added Moss.

--With assistance from Robert Fenner in Melbourne, Jacob Greber and Edward Johnson in Sydney and Jason Scott in Perth. Editors: Edward Johnson, Brendan Murray

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Pham in Sydney at lpham14@bloomberg.net; Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne at psedgman2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net


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