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Read the fine print to decipher Qantas’ new customer-centric strategy

September 25, 2023 — 3.37pm

It is nothing short of bizarre that the new Qantas chief executive Vanessa Hudson’s sales pitch to customers is that she isn’t Alan Joyce, her former boss.

First because Hudson had her fingerprints on many of Joyce’s decisions that made him a customer service pariah.

And second because she is seeking to distance herself from a man – love him or loathe him – who was one of the all-time money-generating machines of the aviation industry.

Working the crowd: New Qantas chief Vanessa Hudson (left) meets staff at Melbourne Airport.

Working the crowd: New Qantas chief Vanessa Hudson (left) meets staff at Melbourne Airport.Credit: Getty

It is a gymnastic feat to straddle her plans to inject some anaesthetic to Qantas’ customer “pain points” while making good on promises to retain profitability.

On Monday, Hudson provided the first bit of tangible news on how, under her leadership, customers will receive better treatment. Until now, it has just been an excruciating exercise in watching Hudson and the board invent new ways to say sorry.

But translating Qantas’ public statements is something of an art form – separating the message the airline wants to convey with some less palatable realities.

Of course Qantas doesn’t use the words “higher airfares”. Instead, it says “it will look to adjust its settings” in response to higher fuel costs.

Take chairman Richard Goyder’s press release last week on former chief Alan Joyce’s remuneration. It suggested Joyce could lose $14.4 million in pay, but a closer inspection showed he was docked less than half-a-million dollars and the rest is up to the board’s discretion.

So, Monday’s headline message from Qantas was it plans to spend an extra $80 million on customer improvements. It sounded like a lot of money but when it is dispersed between better in-flight food, improvements in the customer call centre, increasing the number of flights that can be redeemed using points, and improving the app, it doesn’t sound like such a big sacrifice to make to profit.

That’s $80 million extra expenditure derived from what was a near $2.5 billion in profit in 2023.

Also, the Monday message contained the less palatable threat that airfares may go up if the oil price remains at current levels.


Fuel costs have gone up by $200 million since May last year, some of which is the result of more flying. Qantas says it has absorbed these costs but suggests if they continue to rise the customer is going to start paying. It clearly wants to recoup these costs even but says it is mindful of the already high airfares and appreciates the elevated cost of living that its customers are already living with.

Of course Qantas doesn’t use the words “higher airfares”. Instead, it says “it will look to adjust its settings” in response to higher fuel costs.

There are no prizes for guessing how customers will feel about paying even more in airfares – given they are already 50 per cent higher than pre-COVID.

And then Qantas announced under the heading “capacity and network update” that international capacity will grow 12 percentage points during the last three months of this calendar year.

But no mention of this additional capacity showing up on the much-needed flights from Australia to Europe.

The 50 additional flights includes Qantas resuming its Sydney-Shanghai services and starting two new routes, Brisbane-Wellington and Brisbane-Honiara, and a new Jetstar service from Brisbane to Tokyo.

That said, Hudson is navigating a particularly difficult start to her time at the top.

In normal circumstances, a new chief executive begins their reign either of two ways.

If they are replacing a chief executive who has presided over poor profits, the replacement will announce an entirely new strategy.

If the former chief has presided over a booming business, the new chief will declare the strategy will continue.

Only a month ago when Qantas announced its $2.47 billion profit for 2023, Hudson allied herself strongly with Joyce, calling the airline “blessed” to have had him as its leader.

So much has changed in four weeks.

“I wasn’t the chief executive then. I am the chief executive now,” she told the media last Friday as she apologised for the airline’s treatment of customers.

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