Tut, tut, Qantas…

July 29, 2008 at 7:37 am (Uncategorized)

Lies, all lies! I promise to write you a ripping blog and then what do you get for your trouble? NOTHING! It’s an outrage! You are well within your rights to feel completely gipped. I can only say I had an unexpected deadline to attend to that required my urgent attention, and I’ve only just finished it off. So, where were we?

Qantas. Let’s talk about Qantas, Australia’s largest air carrier and an airline with a hitherto pretty unblemished safety record. At least, they’ve never crashed, and that’s about as safe as anyone can expect to be when they’re flying from one side of the world to the other. Let’s face it, it’s just not natural, so it’s always an untold relief to make it to the other end intact. Given that landing has got to be Selling Point No. 1 for any prospective passenger, Qantas must have done pretty well out of that record. I know I chant something along the lines of ‘Qantas has never crashed, Qantas has never crashed’ every time I’m on one of their planes prior to take-off. I daresay the people on either side of me find this slightly less reassuring than I do, but perhaps that’s because I’ve assumed the brace position by then and am already sweating through my clothes.

So what’s going on at Qantas HQ? Have they grown complacent? Has their safety record made them all go a bit soft? Because you’re only as good as your last safe touchdown, fellas, and if these recent near-misses are anything to make a bet on, your spanking ‘no crash’ record feels like it’s about to get soiled. Did everyone get a load of that MASSIVE HOLE torn through the underbelly on Qantas Flight Get Me the Fuck Back Down to Earth last week? Wow. As every interviewed passenger said afterwards, when the plane improbably landed safely in what I think was Manila, “Good thing [they] couldn’t see the hole when the oxygen masks dropped down, because it’s unlikely everyone would have been quite so calm.” Gee, do you think?!

Okay, I realise the plane did, in fact, land safely, and h-u-u-u-g-e props to the pilot and every other crew member for successfully bringing that big blown-out bastard down. Apparently all they had to contend with was some nausea, and I’d happily trade a clean shirt for oh, I don’t know, a chance to live the rest of my life on the ground, where I belong. Seriously: come puke on me if it’ll help. All up an amazing effort, and we should all take comfort from the fact that it is possible for these things to end well. It doesn’t have to be an inferno. And Leslie Nielsen doesn’t have to be the guy flying your plane. Big relief.

But now there’s another ‘incident,’ some door that wouldn’t close (PROBLEMATIC, people, very, very problematic to have doors flying open at altitude), forcing another Qantas emergency landing, this time in Melbourne (I think… the details are sketchy because my vision blurs every time I see the words ‘Emergency Landing’). What’s happening? Is the media going after Qantas because the company is quietly trying to drop safety procedures down to the world minimum – rather than trying to ace it with the inevitably costlier global maximum – or is Qantas actually experiencing greater than normal safety turbulence? What is the answer? I don’t know. What I do know is that if this is the new standard they’re adopting, I’m feeling uneasy already.

I heard once that the best time to travel on an airline was immediately following one of their planes crashing. You want to see immediate vigilance? Look at the guys whose PR campaign just exploded right across some minor Balkan state. It’s not good for business to crash. And I do see the logic, I do, nothing tarnishes an airline’s image more than dead people. But I’ve always thought of Qantas as a special case, despite the ‘but it’s only a matter of time’ counter argument I can hear you waging out there. No, I always thought being able to say ‘we’ve never crashed’ was a critical part of the Qantas brand. You lose that statistic against your name and IT AIN’T EVER COMIN’ BACK. ‘We’ve only crashed once’: see, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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