John Travolta arrives in his 707, Jett Clipper Ella, at the Qantas 90th birthday celebrations in Brisbane last November. A small group of Qantas staff are upset with his appearance in the airline's safety video. Photo: Will Horton
Some stories are so sensationalist and lacking in objectivity that they deserve not to be talked about, especially when there are real and substantial safety matters elsewhere.
Such, I thought, was the Daily Telegraph's article (I use that term loosely) that a group of Qantas flight attendants and pilots are upset over John Travolta's cameo in the safety video shown on most Qantas flights.
Now the story has gone viral and deserves for the record to be set straight.
For context, the video is four months old now. Why is it an issue now? With Qantas management possibly taking a preemptive strike last month to galvanize support for the company as it enters labour negotiations, are unions using this matter to have the public be on their side instead of management's?
For the facts, Qantas employees take issue with two matters. First is Travolta's use of the word "team" to refer to employees working the flight. Travolta says in the video's introduction:
This is your captain speaking--well, maybe not today. But I can guarantee that the guys on the flight deck and the greater team care just as much about aircraft safety as I do. I've been flying over 40 years as a pilot and I can tell you, there's no one I'd rather have at the controls than a Qantas pilot.Employee commentators say they would prefer the word "crew". After Travolta's cameo, the video alternates between "crew" and "team". Anecdotal comments from pilots on Twitter say they would prefer "crew" to "team", but that there is a blurry line that makes this issue a moot point.
"Crew resource management is about teamwork," one comment says. Another equates the crew/team debate to one in the police profession over if members are part of a "force" or "service", with the conclusion the debate "doesn't change the dynamic of the operation". It shouldn't change aviation either.
The second matter the group takes issue with is Travolta introducing the video instead of a "real pilot". (Travolta is a real pilot, flying his 707 to Australia as recent as last November for Qantas's 90th birthday celebrations, but I'll presume the Qantas employee means a "real Qantas pilot".) Travolta's featuring in the video is all marketing and image-related, and that's fine. Sir Richard Branson has his share of cameos too.
The Telegraph quotes one Qantas staffer calling for Captain de Crespigny, who was in control of VH-OQA during the QF32 incident last November, to introduce the video. With all due respect to de Crespigny, would you want a safety video to be introduced by a pilot who says he saved 450-odd people from erupting into flames mid-air on the same airline you're about to fly with? (It's humorous to imagine the comments Qantas crews might have if management took their suggestion. Damned if you, damned if you don't.)
The one genuine issue I can see with the video is Travolta ignoring gender equality when referring to the "guys on the flight deck". But I'm not going to be the one to raise that issue.