Or at least it is in the Australian tourism industry today and particularly evident on my flight from Sydney to Singapore with Qantas.
After having my hopes up with the recent turnaround of profit on the airline, and the introduction of new innovations such as the Eat on Q, these seem to be just a consequence of cutting waste, cutting costs, rather than driven by anything that is about a turnaround of customer satisfaction.
On the Airbus 330-200, both legroom and armrest are a big commodity. 8 seats across in a 2-4-2 configuration, it still feels extremely tight on an almost full flight. Whilst I managed to nab a aisle seat for this leg, the poor man beside me nurses a broken arm that requires more room and despite what seems like an obvious candidate for a window seat to ensure he is not bumped and to rest this, he was wedged in the middle by check in staff. I enquire as to whether any appropriate questions about his medical state were asked, and he shrugs.
Further proof of this is my own reasonably average 5 foot 7 stature tested by the distance of the seat in front of me. On this occasion I am just fortunate that the person in front also shares my own inclination not to make matters worse by reclining his seat.
The introduction of the Eat on Q menu preorder service works as to be expected, a guarantee of meal choice, served early. My choice of lamb moussaka arrives 30 minutes before the main service, however, despite being first and should be freshest, is lukewarm at best. At least pleasant is the fact that the snowpeas and broccoli border on the blanched side with crunch alongside the stewed and minced lamb. The lamb in the moussaka has plenty of flavour, not requiring any further seasoning, but the mushy aubergine and cheese sauce that has stuck to the top of the lid top resembles more the consistency and flavour of bland baby food. This, as I circumnavigate the cabin following my meal it appears to be the best of the choices on offer. No-one appears to have braved the tofu and black fungus stirfry with noodles, and the honey roasted chicken salad with broccoli, cherry tomatoes and freekah seems half earn in all cases. Asking across my row, most complain the chicken in the salad was dry and stringy and lacking flavour with no appearance of a much needed dressing.
Accompanying all the meal choices was a small bread roll with garlic butter in the middle, most likely chosen to eliminate having to provide butter portions, and a chocolate mousse cup. These are served on top of the hot meal as Qantas no longer provide trays for their meals but simply a plate to put the hot meal on. The result is that my mousse even in the small amount of time in serving and the lukewarm meal is melted. I have heard many flyers bemoan how meal services are being cut down on international flights, but a lack of fresh fruit or salad – even one containing a simple piece of iceberg, tomato and cucumber with the hot meal seems like a step too far. In a recycled-air tin can and with society looking for more healthy options, surely cutting out these sides just makes people more sluggish on a flight?
The later snack provides no respite. This time it’s american hot dogs with tomato relish and mustard. Is it a nod to the new routes they are introducing, or just more a case of ease to long term freeze, heat and eat than source fresh?
The promised movie list perused prior to flight is only half provided, and screen size even more minuscule in comparison with other popular carriers. One can just feel fortunate that there isn’t much distance between seat and screen to read the tiny menu, and as there is no touch screen, it is necessary to select via the console buttons in the side of the chair.
The cabin seats and carpets seem to be newer installations, and are clean and at least comfortable (beyond the space issues). Aisle strip lighting and seat number lighting however have gone the way of the dodo in this refurbished cabin, which makes locating your way back to your seat in darkness rather difficult. No amenities beyond a pillow and blanket are offered on this ‘short’ long-haul, not even toothpaste and a brush which seems a necessity after consuming the garlic bread with our meals. The air conditioning is controlled to be maybe slightly too warm (which at least means avoiding blankets and the mess a cabin is left in when abandoned). The height of the above baggage compartments is high enough to allow passengers to stand up without hitting their heads, however, on a flat level so high, placing luggage in the compartments with heavy items or shorter people is a struggle.
Bathrooms are also plentiful for the passengers with no obvious queuing beyond the end of flight rush, and were kept clean with regular inspections by the crew. But this seems to be the best of the ‘customer service’ on offer.
In trying to be cheery and thankful for the hot beverage trolley arrival, staff were monosyllabic, stern-faced and unresponsive to smiles and thank yous. It’s hard to remain upbeat on long haul flights at the best of times, and being a nervous flyer I personally find flights the necessary evil to undertake to enjoy the further merits of travel, but because I have friends working in the airline industry I always try to make the effort to be pleasant to staff. However, with these Qantas staff it seems the mentality has set in that service is a chore and passengers are just a necessary evil of the job. As a core requirement of cabin crew, something is therefore fundamentally wrong in the organisation, training or staff recruitment here.
Frustratingly there were no announcements about further services offered such as additional drinks, snacks or how to operate the lights or air conditioning when all lights were switched off immediately following the hot drinks. The only time I spied crew between meal services was when the call button was pressed for duty free or drinks. A water bottle was provided early in the flight, but no further drinks or water was offered to a whole cabin other than with meals. So much for the necessity in keeping hydrated.
Am I being purely picky or just a negative Nelly? I don’t think so.
Qantas as the ‘Australian’ airline with a reputation for safety also needs to remain competitive in market and part of that is about the service it provides as a full-priced airline. Working alongside even its other One World members who have undergone recent cost cutting measures of their own still know the value of service with a smile. Most of these airlines still pride themselves in some way and offer a unique or valuable item to stand out – whether it be offering regional cuisine, a great selection of wines, better and more up to date entertainment, or cabin features or amenities that are uniquely from the region they hail from. None of that is evident on QF5. What I am actually left with is a empty soulless feeling for 7.5 hours on a cramped plane.
The ticket and associated flight costs were personally purchased by the reviewer.