Lord Howe Island is Great…but Beware of Qantas’ Flights

Lord Howe Island is a wonderful, unique environmental experience. But be warned! Qantas can ruin it for you. Here’s how and what should be done to avoid this.

Sorry, no bags…

Flying to LHI is tenuous. You can only fly from Sydney or Brisbane. Qantas has a monopoly on the route, so that it costs around $1,200 to fly return. There appears to be only one plane that can fly the route – the Dash 8 – of which Qantas has only 3, due to the short length of the runway. And the flights are regularly cancelled or rescheduled because of the weather – primarily the wind.

When we arrived, we were surprised to find that, for a plane with a maximum of just 37 passengers, several passengers’ bags did not arrive. Including one of ours. Including 7 of the customers of our wonderful resort, Pinetrees.

Qantas has lost our bags on several trips over the years – in Sydney, Paris, Minneapolis at least. But our plane was two hours late departing, there was no connecting flight and the plane wasn’t full, so it seemed inexplicable. A $100 Qantas voucher and an overnight kit was duly supplied at Pinetrees (we should have smelled a rat at this point that they would be doing Qantas’ work…). The bags would be coming next day, we were assured.

Day 2: still no bags…

At the end of the next day we discovered…that NONE of the missing bags had arrived. We further learnt:
– there were other passengers from other resorts who were also missing their bags
– the Dash-8 is not capable of carrying a full load of passengers AND all their luggage
– luggage is often offloaded for commercial freight

Day 3: Qantas speaks

Angry, we phoned Qantas first thing the following morning. The LHI Qantas person made some amazing statements:
– safety comes first (!!!!)
– these luggage problems only occur on 1% of our flights (which equals once a month on a 3 trips a day basis, but the calmness with which our resort handled the issue suggested a much higher rate is likely)
– Qantas plans to phase out the Dash-8 in 3 years (read ‘Qantas has no interest in solving these current issues’)
– freight decisions are made in Sydney (read ‘Nothing I can do’)

He said he’d call Sydney and call back. He did not call back…But the good (?) news is that the bags did all turn up at the end of Day 3. Alls well? No. Our holiday had already been restricted through not having walking poles, swimsuits, wetsuits, medications and more.

But perhaps we were lucky! Other customers due to fly a day earlier could not even fly for two days, so they lost two days of their holiday completely…

Experience repeated on return!

All was repeated at the airport on our return flight! The two flights we saw resulted in 14 bags not being loaded…luckily not ours this time. That’s 2 out of 2 – or 100%, not the 1% Qantas claims is a problem…

A systems problem

This is a systems problem, not a one-off event. And Qantas – beneficiary of monopoly pricing on the route – is surely to blame. If weather, plane availability or capacity issues exist, its Qantas’ problem, not the customer’s.

Intriguingly – and in hindsight – Pinetrees ‘highly’ recommended taking travel insurance – very strange for domestic travel, suggesting unreliability of the service.

Possible Solutions

Qantas knows the problem. What are the possible solutions?

1. General publicity might embarrass Qantas to improve its performance. Actions by individual customers are unlikely to do anything but provide meagre compensations, due to Qantas overwhelming power compared with individual customers.
2. A class action against Qantas. Brought by a consumers’ legal team, the many customers affected each month might lead to a change at Qantas.
3. Qantas provides the quality of service customers expect! A novel idea! This would require an extra flight each day so that contracted-for luggage and passengers are duly delivered!! On routes with many flights, this isn’t necessary, but for LHI, this might be necessary.
4. Qantas informs passengers of the true risk involved in flying to LHI, so that passengers pack differently, ensuring they can handle 2-3 days without their luggage. This might of course lead to a drop off in passengers, but at least it would be an honest statement of the situation.
5. Qantas gives up the route to a regional-type carrier, with lower overheads and more commitment. Qantas is the wrong type of airline to provide this service. A local carrier with lower costs and more commitment would be better able to afford a fourth flight, providing the required service commitment.

So, before committing to your LHI holiday, consider the travel risks involved, plan and pack accordingly ( you only get 14kgs and 7kgs of hand luggage anyway…), or go elsewhere.

It’s a great holiday…if you get here…on time…and with your luggage!! Surely that’s not too much to ask.

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