I boarded Qantas flight 653 on Sunday 20 December 2009 to fly to Perth from Melbourne. The flight proceeded normally. The captain spoke on the PA at the usual time to announce the impending descent into Perth. Five minutes later the customer service manager spoke on the PA to announce that the seatbelt light would soon go on and that all electronic devices (iPods, laptops, games etc) should be switched off.

The man sitting beside me took out his iPod, turned it on, unplugged his earbud headphones from the armrest (he had been watching the film that had just finished), plugged them into his iPod and tucked it between his legs under his crotch out of sight. I waited for a few minutes then tapped him on the arm and asked him to turn the iPod off. He refused. I insisted. He became insolent and asked what I was going to do about it. I replied that I would alert the cabin crew. He challenged me to do so.

qantas1 I reported a safety issue on a Qantas flight and the customer service manager threatened to have me arrested

A detail of the passenger safety card on a Qantas 767 on the return flight from Perth to Melbourne on Friday 25 December 2009

I called the nearest cabin crew member and explained the situation. I told her that to the best of my knowledge the man’s iPod was on and that he was refusing to follow the instructions that all passengers had been given. The woman looked incredulously at me. She evidently did not care, and could not believe that she was being asked to manage the situation.

I asked her to ask the man to show her his iPod. He took out his earbuds and said this demonstrated that he was not listening to anything. I told him to show her the iPod. He unplugged the headphone jack from the iPod and showed the plug to her, again saying he was not listening to anything.

I insisted that he reveal the iPod. She eventually asked to see it. He reluctantly pulled it out from between his legs, screen glowing. He had told the cabin crew woman that he was not using it and I proved that it was still on, and that he had lied to her. She told him to turn it off and he did so.

By this time the disturbance had brought the older male customer service manager to the scene. He seemed completely disinterested in the issue of the iPod and the disobedient lying passenger. He was immediately annoyed at me for drawing attention to the situation.

I asked what the consequences were for the lying passenger. The customer service manager looked at me as if I was stupid and replied that there were no consequences. According to this senior Qantas employee, you can ignore the instructions given to you by the cabin crew on an aircraft, then lie to them, and nothing will happen to you.

I said that this was not good enough. The customer service manager told me many people don’t turn their iPods off during descents and that this was normal. He told me that it posed no safety threat. He also told me that the cabin crew make no effort to find passengers who break the rules or to enforce the instructions that he had delivered via the PA only five minutes ago.

I asked him why he had just made a statement of implied fact to everyone on the aircraft that ‘electronic devices can interfere with navigation’. He refused to answer. During this phase of the situation I had raised my voice sufficiently to be heard by those around me, and I phrased by comments in such a way as to deliberately inform the people around me what was happening.

I basically forced the customer service manager to explain to the front section of economy, which is usually full of frequent flyers, that the instruction to turn off electronic devices is merely a policy, not a law, and that passengers are free to ignore the instructions given to them by the cabin crew. Clearly angry, the customer service manager then instructed me to move seats to separate me from the man next to me. I followed his instructions.

As I disembarked I paused at the entrance to the aircraft to speak to the customer service manager again. I stated that I was very unhappy and disappointed with his handling of the situation. I said that I believed that flight safety was a communal responsibility, that I had acted with appropriate initiative to draw the problem to their attention, and that I expected to be supported in obeying and upholding the safety rules. Instead, I was insulted, publicly humiliated and made to feel like the cause of the problem.

I told him that I was angry that he had treated me so rudely. He treated me with complete disdain, like I was a troublemaker. Even if he did not care about my concerns, he should have placated me, thanked me for reporting my concerns and acted at least superficially consistently with his own policies.

Instead, he continued to contradict himself and hold me to get off the aircraft. I again asked him how he could announce a specific safety rule one minute on the PA and then tell people face to face to ignore it minutes later. He refused to answer and told me again to get off the aircraft.

I asked for his business card or some evidence of his name and details. He refused to supply them to me and told me that if I did not immediately get off the aircraft that he would call the police and have me arrested. I did not want to be arrested, so I walked away.

qantas2 I reported a safety issue on a Qantas flight and the customer service manager threatened to have me arrested

A detail of the passenger safety card on a Qantas 767 on the return flight from Perth to Melbourne on Friday 25 December 2009

It’s a good thing the passenger’s behaviour was considered by Qantas to be harmless and not worth paying attention to. If his actions had been genuinely dangerous, the aircraft could have gone down in millions of flaming pieces before the insipid, insolent and incompetent staff on board noticed the passenger’s behaviour or did anything about it.

I few days later I paused and wondered what the people on a Detroit bound flight felt like as they watched a Nigerian terrorist set off small explosions from his seat. I’m sure the man who tried to stop him has not been criticised for acting conscientiously, and with the appropriate degree of initiative, according to his rational self interest in his own safety.

The message from Qantas is loud and clear. Don’t bother listening to the safety instructions. Don’t bother following the rules. Just ignore them. iPods can’t interfere with navigation. We tell you that but we don’t know why. We’re comfortably ignorant about a lot of things. We think it’s acceptable to lie to all our passengers about important safety advice.

We don’t care about upholding our own rules. We don’t care about your safety. Although we ask you on the safety card to speak up, we don’t really mean it. Don’t expect us to do our jobs properly. Don’t think for yourself and don’t ask us to think for ourselves. Don’t be alert and safety conscious. Sit still, shut up and try to be as dumb as the cashed up bogans around you.

Air travel policies change regularly. If this situation has been definitively found to be harmless, why has Qantas failed to change its policy? If the problem remains, why have they failed to uphold their own rules? Is Qantas negligent or just indifferent? This situation may be primarily about a failure of communication, but it implies and reveals a whole lot more.

I reported a safety issue on a Qantas flight and the customer service manager threatened to have me arrested

16 thoughts on “I reported a safety issue on a Qantas flight and the customer service manager threatened to have me arrested

  • 4 January 2010 at 1:42 pm
    Permalink

    It’s completely pathetic that they won’t just change the policy. Mobile phones and other devices that transmit a signal I can understand – they do interfere with the comm’s if nothing else. An mp3 player though? Any engineer will tell you it’s completely harmless. I’m one of those who just ignores the instruction to turn it off. If queried, I point out that they’re noise cancelling and imply that’s all I’m using them for. Obeying pointless rules has never been high on my agenda…

    Reply
  • 5 January 2010 at 12:24 pm
    Permalink

    The real reason they require elec devices turned off is for saftey reasons, someone listening to music is not paying attention to saftey info or what is happening around them. On a recent jetstar flight, I missed the announcement due to noise cancelling headphones. The flight attendant pulled me up immeadietly about it and feeling a bit confronted I asked how I was
    supposed to hear the announcement, and then she got really angry, I was smart enough to leave it at that, an sort of raised voice gets the crew pretty edgey in my experience. So I think it just depends on he crew. What happened to he days when if you didn’t pay attention during the saftey demo they would stop and ask you to pay attention!

    Reply
    • 5 January 2010 at 2:51 pm
      Permalink

      I use noise cancelling headphones too and I can still hear the PA in the background. It’s the responsibility of the passenger to listen to it.

      Reply
  • 5 January 2010 at 3:58 pm
    Permalink

    My favourite is an alleged new rule. When flying recently a wally called ‘Rod’ insisted I had to leave my notebook in the overhead locker during take-off and landing. I said fine, whatever but he knew I thought he was lying to lied some more. So I have him an argument.

    Amusingly, the guy next to me had a notebook the whole time, identical to mine.

    Qantas staff are rude and obnoxious because that’s how management treats them.

    Reply
  • 5 January 2010 at 4:04 pm
    Permalink

    Hehe, you ARE a troublemaker.. My friend a flight attendant told me that neither mp3 player or mobile phones interfere with anything (that was back in time when your mobile was as big as a book). She also told me that the reason why electronic devices should be turned off is to ensure that in case of an emergency it would be helpful if people don’t listen to ACDC while others listen to the emergency instructions.

    I agree with you that I’d rather have an alert person sitting next to me in case things go wrong and I’d rather know that the person next to me knows whats going on and is not distracted by anything..

    On the contrary a flight attendant has to ensure that people don’t panic and have a feeling of safety. So the way that went was definitely the wrong way by acting outside of their own rules..

    My observation here: Australian customer service quite often takes the easiest and most convenient way to solve problems without thinking a lot or considering what that can cause.

    Reply
    • 5 January 2010 at 4:21 pm
      Permalink

      I’m yet to meet a member of cabin crew with a PhD in electronic engineering, so I don’t believe anything they say on this matter!

      Reply
  • 6 January 2010 at 10:55 am
    Permalink

    Are you autistic? Can you really not see what’s wrong with behaving the way you did? Fascinating.

    Reply
    • 6 January 2010 at 12:36 pm
      Permalink

      I behaved in a safety conscious way according to the prevailing laws and policies. How can I have done anything wrong? You seem to misunderstand what ‘normal’ should be in this situation.

      Reply
  • 6 January 2010 at 7:04 pm
    Permalink

    You don’t need a PhD in anything to know the facts, you only have to be informed by one who does ( ie climate change ….I’m sure you do not hold a PhD in that field, but, nonetheless, understand what’s happening). Anyway, very strange and agressive behavior !

    Reply
    • 6 January 2010 at 7:18 pm
      Permalink

      Part of the problem with this situation is that the facts are unclear and perhaps unknown. I’m sure the airlines’ risk management lawyers won’t allow them to publicly declare the use of electronic devices during flights safe in case it is not absolutely true, as they would be sued into bankruptcy. The scientific truth and the legally determined public policy may not be the same.

      Reply
  • 6 January 2010 at 9:15 pm
    Permalink

    Either way you’re causing a much bigger problem on board during landing by harrassing the guy next to you than he is causing by using headphones. And you know it, or you wouldn’t have written this post.

    Reply
    • 6 January 2010 at 10:50 pm
      Permalink

      Your argument is pathetic. Nice use of anonymous email forwarding. You don’t get another chance here unless you use a legitimate email address.

      Reply
  • 7 January 2010 at 2:05 am
    Permalink

    I have to agree with Brian in general on this one.

    Personally I think your slant in your blog is a touch inflammatory and the situation may have been able to be handled with a bit less theatrics – by that, I know the advice is to have these devices off but did you honestly feel your personal safety was threatened or were you more chasing the notion of challenging their policies?

    Irrespective your actions to report breaches of said restrictions were just and the response you got from Qantas’ representatives on paper at minimum would surely be seen as contradictory, unprofessional and to a point in your statement of threats to have you arrested a poor deflection of the point at hand (somewhat in similar theme I would have to say about your response to Lover’s previous post).

    If on-ground policy is to allow use of electronic devices yet still tow the company line to prohibiting them, particualy if that is not federal or international aviation law, then its an act in futility in my books and something best just omitted from the safety demonstration if its truly deemed to be irrelevant to having an impact on aircraft operations or the outcome of an emergency situation. That, or its a serious issue that Qanatas managment should be tackling with their ground staff to ensure better enforcement and adherence to policy.

    Are you planning to take this further with Qantas?

    Reply
    • 7 January 2010 at 2:09 am
      Permalink

      I sent Qantas an email with a summary and a link to the full post. I got an apparently automated response that somehow had deduced my frequent flyer status, but nothing else:

      Thank you for taking the time to contact us. As a Gold Frequent Flyer, your feedback is very important to us.

      I would like to advise that a Customer Care Executive from our Premium Team will be responding to your feedback shortly.

      Given that this story has been read hundreds of times, I would have thought ‘shortly’ would be with in 48 hours, but they obviously don’t care.

      Reply
  • 7 January 2010 at 2:25 am
    Permalink

    Proabably not too surprising that on first tier of their feedback facility would be a mechanism to identify you as a possible customer and your status but still then send the generic e-mail pending actual human consideration.

    If anything to a degree I’d take a delay in response as a compliment as they could actually be treating it with some degree of actual interest and investigating further rather than just plucking a ‘your-call-is-important-to-us’ style response.

    Given there is not a published hit count or explanation of those stats on the site that I could see I don’t think that would hold much relevance in any consideration to your feedback/complaint. Nor should it really WRT the relative importance of other passenger’s feedback & issues in theory at minimum.

    Reply
  • 7 January 2010 at 5:05 pm
    Permalink

    Erm, sorry Niels, a delay in response from Qantas is not a sign they are taking your complaint with a degree of interest. It took them three months to answer my email about $500 worth of electronic equipment that fallen out of my suitcase after it was ripped open on a flight (I was travelling and had already rung their Paris & Buenos Aires offices numerous times) Their customer service office just really sucks and, believe me, when they do answer, they will try and fob it off on someone. oooh how pessimistic of me!

    Having said that, in general, i’ve had good experiences with Qantas in general. And Brian did the right thing as far as being a conscientious passenger goes.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *