Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Qantas flights: Why the Australia airline abruptly grounded all flights

Qantas Airways grounded all flights Saturday, stranding thousands of passengers, including 17 world leaders. What's behind the Qantas labor union dispute?

By Narayanan SomasundaramReuters / October 29, 2011

Brothers Kevin and Chris Crulley, sit on the floor at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, after their Qantas Airways flight home to England was cancelled.

(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)



Australia's Qantas Airways grounded its entire fleet on Saturday over a bitter labor dispute in an unprecedented move, with the government asking a tribunal to stop the conflict which it worries is putting both the airline and the economy at risk.

Skip to next paragraph

Tens of thousands of passengers, including 17 world leaders, were affected by the abrupt decision, which clearly took the government by surprise.

It came as an embarrassment for Prime Minister Julia Gillard who was hosting a Commonwealth leaders summit in the remote city of Perth, 17 of them booked to fly out on Sunday with Qantas.

Unions, from pilots to caterers, have taken strike action since September over pay and opposing Qantas plans to cut its soaring costs, as it looks at setting up two new airlines in Asia and cutting back financially draining long-haul flights.

It plans to cut 1,000 jobs and order $9 billion of new Airbus aircraft as part of a make over to salvage the loss making international business.

"They are trashing our strategy and our brand. They are deliberately destabilizing the company. Customers are now fleeing from us," Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said.

"(The unions) are sticking by impossible claims that are not just to do with pay, but also to do with unions trying to dictate how we run our business," said Joyce, who estimated the latest move would cost the airline A$20 million (21.4 million pounds) a day.

The move came a day after shareholders backed hefty pay rises to senior Qantas executives.

"It (the grounding) is partially designed to get the government involved," Australian aviation analyst Tom Ballantyne said on ABC Television. "The airline will be irretrievably damaged if it goes on for more than a month."

Gillard said the escalating dispute could hit the economy. "I believe Australians want to see this sorted out."

Qantas said it would lock out all employees from Monday night in the dispute which has affected 70,000 passengers and 600 flights on one of the country's biggest travel weekends. The grounding does not affect Qantas' budget airline Jetstar.

"To resolve this at the expense of paying customers on one of the biggest flying days in Australia is quite frankly...bizarre, unwarranted and unfair to the loyal customers that Australia has," a businessman, who only gave his name as Barry, told Sky TV at Melbourne airport after he was stranded.

Qantas' Facebook page was inundated with angry passengers. "Stranded in Sydney Airport...because QANTAS are useless idiots, wrote Lyn Haddon.

Zoe Johnson, an Australian living in Switzerland, said: "I'm proudly Australian but it just leaves a really bad taste in your mouth. So many people say, 'I'm never going to fly Qantas again,' and from my point of view its just feels like a kind of bullying tactic really."

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story