Australian flagship carrier Qantas has topped this year's list of Shonky Award recipients, but it appears the airline is less than happy with consumer advocacy group CHOICE's call to name them the "Spirit of Disappointment".
Qantas is one of this year's "winners" of CHOICE's notorious Shonkys – a prize bestowed upon Australia's worst products and services
The awards have been running for 17 years and are clearly something no brand ever wants to be associated with.
Qantas leads the list of Shonky awardees, with quick-access loan product VetPay, Steggles Chicken Nuggets, online flower-delivery service Bloomex, and Zega Digital cookware joining the name-and-shame roll.
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Qantas, according to CHOICE, was awarded a Shonky for "a disappointing trail of delayed flights, lost baggage, excessive call waiting times and customer difficulties in using travel credits".
"The so-called Spirit of Australia, which has been a part of the national fabric for over 100 years, has been a disappointment to customers since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020," CHOICE said in its statement.
CHOICE money and travel expert Jodi Bird said Qantas had always sold itself as the premium Australian domestic airline.
"Australians have been very proud of Qantas as a premium airline, but what we've seen recently is Qantas taken down to the level of a budget airline," Bird said.
"They had the worst rates for flight delays, and their baggage handling has really been poor in the last year. People are still paying premium prices, but not getting premium service."
Apart from the well-documented travel chaos at airports and cases of lost baggage, CHOICE said that, in July this year, Qantas had the worst rate of on-time domestic arrivals of any Australian airline, with only 47.1 per cent of flights arriving on time - based on data from the Bureau of Transport.
The consumer advocacy group however acknowledged that Qantas had since improved, recording 69.2 per cent on-time arrivals in September.
However, it added that Qantas was also holding travel credits accumulated during COVID from travel cancellations.
"In April this year, Qantas and Jetstar combined were sitting on around $1.4 billion in unused flight credits and future bookings, with customers complaining that the system wouldn't let them book lower-cost flights," CHOICE said in its statement.
"Customers are also reporting that flights are costing more when paid for with a voucher than with other payment types."
Bird added that Qantas may have steered customers towards choosing a credit voucher by not being upfront about refund rights.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, Qantas communicated to their customers that they were entitled to a credit voucher for cancelled flights. Qantas didn't state upfront that customers may be entitled to refunds," Bird explained.
Finally, CHOICE said Qantas wait times still lagged behind competitor Virgin Australia, although it had made improvements since 2021. The group however, found that "people needing to get in touch with Qantas by phone would wait 21 minutes on average for their call to be answered, and up to 50 minutes".
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, in August, apologised to customers for the poor performance and announced initiatives to address mishandled bags and on-time performance as he put the blame on high levels of sick leave and an industry-wide labour shortage.
Qantas blasts award
The flagship carrier however told 9news.com in a statement that CHOICE's data was incorrect, and that it had "improved significantly since August" after "several months of poor performance earlier in the year".
"We're back to our pre-COVID level of service," the airline spokesperson said. "We've been very transparent with our performance figures, both good and bad, but CHOICE is using figures that are just wrong."
The spokesperson added that the data CHOICE used to analyse wait times was incorrect, stating that it was "less than half" of what the group had claimed.
"Our customers have redeemed more than $1 billion in COVID-related flight credits. The conditions for these are the same or better than they were pre-COVID and we're actively encouraging our customers to use them," the spokesperson said.
"No one is disputing the fact we had issues earlier this year, and we apologised for that, but it's disappointing that CHOICE failed to acknowledge the impact that COVID and border closures have had on the entire aviation industry."