Qantas tagline author tells CEO to remove it as airline battles PR crises


Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce. Source: AAP/Biance De Marchi.

Writer and commentator Phillip Adams has demanded the boss of Qantas remove the national airline’s ‘Spirit of Australia’ tagline from all branding immediately, as multiple crisis engulf the company.

The 82-year-old, who had been appointed an officer of the Order of Australia and received six honorary doctorates from Australian universities, made his mark during an illustrious career in film production and advertising, during which time he says he came up with the iconic tagline.

These days Adams shows no sign of slowing down, hosting a program on ABC’s Radio National four nights a week while also writing a weekly column for The Weekend Australian newspaper.

An incensed Adams made the demand on Thursday, addressing Qantas CEO Alan Joyce directly on Twitter:

I’m the author of ‘the spirit of Australia’, Adams wrote. Then deserved, now tragically inappropriate.

My slogan is hereby vetoed. Please remove it from all fuselages, tickets and advertising.

It comes amid a torrid time for the national airline, with the public relations crises stacking up like lost luggage in the wrong terminal.

Qantas canceled a staggering one in every 13 flights in May as it battled reliability issues. This morning the airline confirmed it was slashing domestic flight schedules by up to 15% through to September, and 10% to March next year.

This week Qantas also apologised to a grieving passenger who was left waiting for bag containing her mother’s ashes for more than four days after flying Heathrow Airport to Sydney, after a hefty social media pile-on.

The passenger’s partner, CEO of Women’s Community Shelters Annabelle Daniel, tweeted that they had received “no responses from your website. Could you help more please?

The tweet was met with an outpouring of support and anger, with author Susan Francis calling it disgusting treatment and calling for shareholders to make noise“.

Last week Qantas forked out another apology after 300 passengers were left stranded at a Dallas airport in the US for 24 hours, with many sleeping on hard flooring while they waited to hear what was happening. The aircraft was delayed, twice, due to an engineering error, but Qantas staff did not organize accommodation for any passengers.

The problems facing the airline are likely to be exacerbated over the coming weeks, as families attempt to get to holiday destinations during the school holidays. On Friday morning, travellers were told to expect long queues, delayed flights and lost baggage at Melbourne and Brisbane airports.

So where does a besieged national airline go from here?

Jodie Quick, a travel industry expert from Meridian Travel & Cruise, tells SmartCompany the publicity will be extremely damaging for the brandand Joyce won’t find a lot of support from the industry either.

Call wait times average around 2.5-3 hours at the moment for industry, she says.

Alan Joyce thought this model might be a great idea to try and save money [and] has employed 750 off-shore call center staff in Fiji who sadly know very little.

On the other hand, general manager of global security services for World Travel Protection Rodger Cook says he has flown 15 flights on Qantas this year along and experienced no disruptions or luggage issues.

Cook pointed out all airlines are struggling with Traveler demand, lack of employees due to people changing careers during COVID, and in some jurisdictions, the great resignation has played a part.

But there’s no getting around the fact that Joyce laid off a large chunk of his workforce, some 2000 people, during the pandemic, which the Federal Court has deemed illegal twice (once on twice). On Friday morning, the company announced it would be handing out a $5000 “one-off boost” to nearly 20,000 employees, in part to make up for the absence of annual wage increases in recent years.

Disputes with ground handling staff have not helped Qantas and other industrial action can not be discounted, Cook says.

Despite the blows, Qantas will survive, Cook says — and its saving grace could be its points system.

We believe Qantas will recover. As a business traveller, their Frequent Flyer program is still providing great rewards and the lounges are full, he says.

Qantas needs to ensure their internal industrial relation issues don’t impact travelers, they need to improve their call center response times as well as their on-time departure times.

Will Joyce’s time at the top be limited? It is perhaps less certain this morning as Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans has announced he will step down in December and leave the airline in 2023.

Evans was widely assumed to be the logical replacement at Qantas, should the long-time CEO walk away.

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