Blackface backfires on Qantas Airways

Blackface donned by rugby fans in Qantas promotion gets airline in hot water in social media. Qantas already facing financial trouble.

Rob Griffith/AP/File
Qantas jets taxi at the international airport in Sydney, Australia, earlier this month. Already in financial trouble, the airline angered some of its fans on social media by briefly picturing online two rugby fans in blackface.

Poor Qantas Airways. Although it has associated itself with cuddly Australian wildlife like koalas and kangaroos over the years – and has never suffered a jetliner crash – the Australian carrier has suddenly landed in a prickly patch.

Earlier this month, it announced it was cutting 1,000 jobs and restructuring its money-losing international operations. Its engineers have started a one-hour-a-week walkout. Its management is trying to quash takeover talk. Now the airline is in trouble with its social media fans.

In a Twitter contest last week, it offered two tickets to an international rugby match to fans with the best show of support for the national Australian team. The carrier awarded the prize to two white men who donned blackface and wigs to honor their favorite player, a black star from Fiji called Radike Samo.

That touched off a furious response from some Qantas fans on social media networks. The carrier pulled the ad and apologized. But it didn’t end there. According to the Daily Mail in London:

Qantas originally tweeted: 'We understand it caused offense to some people, which is why it was removed. We are really sorry if it has upset anyone.'

But that only served to anger offended Twitter users more, with one typical response reading: 'Cut it out with the faux pologies. Say you're sorry for posting the photo that DID offend people (not if). What that image represents to most people is appalling.'

Another wrote: 'For company like @Qantasairways [which claims] to represent our nation, this is completely unacceptable.'

Qantas finally issued a longer apology, in which it said: 'We apologise that the photo of two Radike fans offended some of our followers.'

That social media blowup came less than two weeks after Qantas announced it would shift its international focus to the fast-growing Asian market by creating two new airlines: a premium Asian carrier not based in Australia and, in partnership with Japan Airlines and Mitsubishi, a budget Japanese airline.

Qantas needs to shake up its operations to forestall more international losses, the carrier’s chief executive argues. But the plan has drawn sharp criticism from Australian labor and government officials.

Qantas has to find a way to become cuddly again.

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