Qantas (QAN) management appears to have allowed its years-long love affair with celebrity endorser John Travolta to blind it to its real assets: Its flight crews. Qantas pilots and flight attendants are up in arms over a "cringeworthy" flight safety video by the actor, which seems innocuous to the casual viewer -- but for Qantas insiders manages to wrongfoot a whole bunch of internal issues within the company.
The most obvious one is Qantas' safety record. It's a myth that a Qantas plane has never crashed, but the fact that the airline hasn't had a fatality since a small propeller plane went down in 1951 still makes it synonymous with safety. The passenger safety video, therefore, is much more of a "thing" at Qantas than it is anywhere else. Yet Travolta starts the video with a joke:
This is your captain speaking -- well, maybe not today.The "joke" is a semi-serious one. Travolta is a licensed 707 pilot who trained with Qantas and owns his own Qantas 707, which he keeps parked in Florida. He's had a relationship with Qantas since 2002 and even piloted the England World Cup team to South Africa in 2010.
For Qantas staff, however, this is all irrelevant. They would rather see Captain Richard de Crespigny do the safety video -- he is the pilot who successfully landed a Qantas Airbus A-380 at Sydney after one of its engines exploded, becoming Australia's Captain Chesley Sullenberger.
The Travolta video also grates because, despite Travolta's actual expertise in aviation, he repeatedly refers to the flight personnel as a "team" instead of the "crew." Here's the reaction of several Qantas pilots on an online bulletin board:
... irritating to say the least!
Flew with Qantas twice in Jan and found him very patronising and he is NOT the Captain!! What are Qantas thinking of with such a crap introduction.Qantas has used Travolta repeatedly for PR events, such as here and here and here and here.
Seems like a storm in a teacup? Well, it is. But it demonstrates that Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has allowed Travolta's glamor to take his eye off the ball. You might agree with Fox News' Steve Doocy (video below), who asked what's wrong wth Qantas being lighthearted in its use of Travolta, "as long as he doesn't do the Saturday Night Fever dance down the aisles"?
Unfortunately, Travolta has done the equivalent of that: He did a publicity flight on the Airbus A380 with Grease costar Olivia Newton-John and, at a separate corporate event, sang, "Summer Nights" for Qantas execs.
In sum, Joyce has taken a brand that, outside Australia is known for one thing (safety), ignored a hero employee who embodies that, and instead associated the brand with a vanity-jet owning American celebrity with a weird religion and a troubled private life.