Long queues at Melbourne airport Sunday evening. Photo: Will Horton
I fortunately was flying on Sunday and, even more fortunately, not on Virgin Blue, whose Navitaire-powered IT booking, reservations, check-in, and boarding system crashed following a hardware failure Sunday morning. The carrier later said Navitaire should have "remedied within a short period of time" the problem but for unbeknownst reasons, did not do so until Monday morning. That lack of action lead to hundreds of flight delays and cancellations affecting some 100,000 passengers, long queues at airports, and a blunt PA advising passengers on cancelled flights to "go home". (Undoubtedly one passenger would have quipped, "I'm trying.") By mid-week empty queues indicated normalcy had returned, but the incident left two key take home messages.
First, new CEO John Borghetti is at work "Qantas-ising" Virgin by moving it up-market: Early on in the Navitaire debacle Virgin said it would reimburse delayed passengers for airport transfers and $220 a night for accommodation. All together that could stretch into the tens of millions of dollars for Virgin but sent the message that Virgin, like Qantas but unlike Jetstar and Tiger, will take care of passengers. Underpinning this was how Virgin's fragile transformation could be rocked by 100,000 displeased-"I'm-never-flying-Virgin-again" passengers.
With the compensation Virgin managed to upstage Qantas, who came a-knockin' on Wednesday morning with an e-mail from CEO Alan Joyce to Qantas frequent flyers extolling the roo's on-time performance with the note, "We are maintaining that industry-leading punctuality this year." Joyce also boasted of new menus, upgraded lounges, cabin modifications, and a growing network. In short: Dear passengers, if you've been dabbling with your carrier of choice and have been swinging with Virgin but got caught up in their delays, return to your ole friend Qantas. And to Borghetti Joyce effectively said, "Game on."
Second, in the just saying department, the next time a Tiger A320 goes technical because of a bird strike, a Qantas 767 has a flap issue, or a Jetstar A330 has a cockpit fire, remember: $h!+ happens. Headlines like the Australian's front-page "flying shame" were not necessary in this instance. Virgin may have gotten its dose of problems all at once and its on time performance will plummet in September, but for other carriers problems lurk around the corner.