CNY holiday #2: travelling Qantas

For this recent holiday, the main Melbourne-Singapore return trip was a Qantas experience, which would be the first time in a decade plus. The last time my Dad & I flew overseas with Qantas I was a teenager… Ever since we have been loyal Singapore Air (SQ) flyers, although not frequently enough to build up points in their frequently flyer program.

The following is a list of differences that I identified, which make SQ still my preferred airline:

1. Customer Service: QF = average; SQ = excellent

Whilst QF aircraft crew were polite and friendly, the SQ crew (which tended to be the Singapore Girls) somehow did a better job at connecting with the customer. Case in point, I observed the QF crew talk between themselves and joke, but that friendliness never extended to us customers. When serving a customer, they did their job – but only at the minimum level, and never more. Being present for the customer and showing they cared would be part of lessons learnt and training required to help Qantas improve in terms of customer service. If Qantas was serious about addressing this, they should observe the in-flight experience provided by their rivals.

2. Small in-flight comforts: QF = average; SQ = excellent

Often it is the little things that set apart the top performances from those a rung down. Having flown SQ 5/6 times over a decade or more, things I took from granted include:
– having a selection of newspapers available just before embarking on a plane
– hot towels at the start/end of a flight
– packet peanuts
– handing out earphones to passengers (opportunity for positive customer interaction)
– handing out desserts immediately after a meal

3. Meals: QF = average; SQ = excellent

One major area which I would question Qantas on is that whilst I appreciate passengers with special meals get served first, why did it take so long for the flight crew to distribute meals to everyone else? It was particularly observable when the special needs passenger meals were already fully eaten and I was still yet to receive my tray. Analysing the situation further, as far as I could tell, there was only ever one trolley being pushed around the cabin serving meals, yet you had two aisles to cover…

Meal cutlery was completely plastic although I recall SQ provides proper metal cutlery. I do remember that it all went plastic in the immediate aftermath of September 11, but I do recall in recent years, a combination of plastic knife only with metal spoon/fork.

For water, Qantas hands out a bottle whereas Singapore Air provides a sealed container. Even though the SQ container means you get less, one impression is that the packaging reflects a higher value and not quite commoditised like a bottle of water is.

4. In-flight Entertainment System: QF = average; SQ = excellent

Before take-off on the return trip, the Qantas in-flight entertainment system had a bug which required a 10-15min reboot, which was cited by our captain as the main reason for our 20min delay in flight departure. The reboot revealed that the platform operated on Microsoft Windows CE! As far as I recall, the SIA system was linux based…

Whilst the Qantas collection of movies and TV shows was reasonable, it was not as large and varied as the SIA catalogue. The range of games on an SQ flight was also far superior to the 4-5 on offer on QF35/36 (QF35 is Melbourne-Singapore, QF36 is the return).

One other observation was that my Dad found it hard to sleep and rest because the LED light shining from the passenger screens one row in front of us was distracting. Now, it is my guess that this is likely to be a common problem to both QF and SQ flights, but that would need more information…


So, why did we fly Qantas this time? Well, the answer is simply a matter of the sales period. The Qantas sales offer allowed us to travel BEFORE Chinese New Year whereas all other airlines (Singapore, Malaysia, Cathay) sales did not.

After this experience with QF, however, I’m prepared to say that it is worth paying more to get the superior experience of SIA. It is for these same reasons you probably find Qantas today the way it is. I recently read an article that explained how Qantas’ staff have two levels of workplace agreements/terms whereby the older staff are paid up to twice that of the younger/newer staff. Whether these circumstances contribute to the staff behaviour observed above is hard to tell, but if it is then it is one of the areas that Qantas management should look to fixing for its survival.