Australian flag carrier Qantas was forced to fly one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners between Melbourne and Sydney without a single passenger on board, but it was packed with luggage on Friday. The airline operated the special intercity baggage shuttle to reunite passengers with bags that had been left behind as chaotic scenes at Australian airports heralded the start of the Easter holiday.
The flight had to be quickly chartered after Qantas came under fire in the media for leaving customers without clothes at the start of their holiday. The Sydney-based airline said only a “small number of flights” have departed without loaded bags in recent days due to staffing “challenges” related to COVID.
“Decisions have been made for these flights to depart without baggage to ensure customers can get to their destination and not face lengthy flight delays or cancellations,” the airline said in a statement on Friday. . A similar decision was made more than 10,000 miles away in London by British Airways after facing its own staffing issues on Thursday.
Some of the delayed baggage is simply put on later flights and couriered to customers at great expense to Qantas. But in a move that would suggest the number of misplaced bags is far higher than initially thought, Qantas has also chartered one of its Dreamliner jumbo jets to transport luggage being moved between Sydney and Melbourne.
Qantas normally only uses its Boeing 787 Dreamliners on long-haul international services. Low-cost subsidiary Jetstar also uses some of its Dreamliners on popular domestic routes such as between Melbourne and Cairns to increase passenger and baggage capacity.
“We really appreciate people’s patience and understanding and apologize for any inconvenience,” a Qantas spokesperson said after the airline came under fire for its performance in recent days. Qantas says it will carry half a million people on more than 4,600 domestic flights over the Easter long weekend.
The spokesperson blamed the baggage fiasco in part on COVID-19 isolation requirements that have seen employee sickness rates reach up to 50% in some departments, even though staff don’t actually have a coronavirus. The airline said it “rejects” a persistent suggestion that the problems are linked to Qantas’ decision to outsource ground handling duties around a year and a half ago.
As well as blaming Qantas, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) also blames Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the current woes facing Australian travellers.
“Australians can thank Scott Morrison and his absent government for being stuck in airports rather than doing Easter egg hunts with children,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine. “Staff shortages were entirely predictable – the sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, but failures by the Morrison government to isolate the workforce have exacerbated the challenges,” Kaine continued.
Qantas says it has brought in 200 head office managers to help with baggage and check-in at Sydney and Melbourne airports.
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