Qantas A380: Airline Earns Black Eye for Poor Customer Response to Crisis

Last Updated Nov 9, 2010 8:57 AM EST

Grounding an entire fleet of airplanes as Qantas has done with its A380 causes all sorts of problems for an airline. Being in the customer service business, however, dictates, that stranded customers become the first priority, after safety concerns have been satisfied. Unfortunately, Qantas didn't get that memo and it has failed in several ways during this crisis.

When Qantas grounded the A380 last week after an engine had an uncontained failure in flight, that left thousands of passengers stranded around the world. Airports in places like London, Singapore, and Los Angeles were full of dazed passengers, wondering when they would actually get out of town. With the A380 being the biggest airplane in the Qantas fleet, it's not easy to reaccommodate all those customers, but it should be easy to communicate with them.

One of the first places people turn for information these days is the web. So how did Qantas do with its website as well as Facebook and Twitter? Poorly.

The Qantas Facebook page simply had a single link posted to the airline website where it was supposedly posting updates. It was posted on the wall once and that was it. So I clicked on the link and went to the "Major Disruptions" page on the Qantas website at 830am on November 8 (Sydney time). It hadn't been updated since 2pm on the day before and it had very general information.

I decided to turn to Twitter, but I was even more frustrated. Qantas has a US Twitter account which had that same link posted on Facebook on November 4. Then there wasn't a single response for another 24 hours, until November 5. That's a full day without addressing the avalanche of tweets out there. Finally, on the 5th, there were a few tweets responding to people, but the delay is inexcusable.

There is another Qantas Twitter account which Qantas points to from its social media page. The QF Travelinsider is meant for "sharing inspirational travel tips," but as the only Twitter account for the airline in Australia, people are bound to look for answers here since they can't find them elsewhere. They won't get any. The only tweet to even remotely reference the issue was this one:

Obviously not helpful and further tweets were about luxury in New Zealand and other inane topics. Sending customers to a page where you can submit an email form is absurd in a situation like this.

The problematic response wasn't limited to social media channels. One person who had flown to LA from Chicago on November 4, waiting for an A380 flight to Sydney, was not happy. After dealing with a lot of confusion at the airport, she had been told to go to a hotel and she would fly out the next day. She tried to call Qantas but wait times were around a hour.

When she arrived for her flight the next day, she was told that she wouldn't be getting out and she should go back to the hotel. No further information was given, though she eventually made it out the next evening, about 48 hours late.

With further engine issues being found by Qantas, this isn't going to go away for a few more days, I'd guess. Qantas, however, needs to learn how to serve it customers better quickly or it may end up with a lasting, poor impression for customer service in crisis situations.

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