Opinion Michael Pascoe: Lesser COVID-19 fails in batteries, home insurance, Qantas
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Michael Pascoe: Lesser COVID-19 fails in batteries, home insurance, Qantas

covid Michael Pascoe Qantas
The Grounded Kangaroo faces an uphill battle to regain the trust of travel agents, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: TND
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The big COVID-19 failures this year are well known – the botched quarantine, the vaccine acquisition and rollout, Craig Kelly, George Christensen – but little ones can still annoy.

Who has remembered to keep their car battery charged during three months of lockdown?

Do you know your home and contents insurance can be compromised if a house is unoccupied for two months?

The holiday house people haven’t been able to get to or the home base they haven’t been able to return to may be uninsured by now.

And then there’s the airline sometimes called the national carrier – the one that has received extraordinary corporate welfare payments but doesn’t internationally carry and is among the worst when it comes to giving refunds.

The two biggest states are promising people will soon see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, but many problems won’t disappear when the magic vax numbers are held aloft.

They can be mundane: Yes, being a multi-car couple with little need for multiple cars within our five-kilometre radius, I did find myself waiting more than two hours for the NRMA to provide a jump start. Bloke said I was far from alone – and the inconvenience might not have been mundane if the car was needed urgently.

Similarly, losing home and contents insurance or having to pay a higher excess could be unfortunate.

There may be people who read all the fine print of their insurance contracts. There also may be people who build scale models of the Opera House out of match sticks. I don’t think I’ve ever met an example of either.

If you leave a house unoccupied for 60 days, your insurance could be at risk with a bunch of insurance companies.

Others offer longer periods of emptiness, but we’ve been locked down or locked out for longer.

From the insurers’ point of view, empty houses are more likely to attract thieves and vandals as well as being less protected from the elements.

These sorts of problems can be sorted. What has happened to faith in Qantas, one of our most trusted brands, is not so easily fixed.

Last year Qantas tried to play chicken with its customers over refunds – wait for the flight to be cancelled to be able to demand a refund or take an earlier offer of a credit.

This year the Grounded Kangaroo has been good at offering refunds for domestic flights hit by our state border circus, but a seasoned travel operator tells me international business-class refunds of $10,000 and more have taken eight months to come through.

Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and Air Egypt have been quicker and more reliable with necessary refunds than Qantas, my informant says.

There’s the question of trust for Qantas now taking international bookings for flights from mid-December.

Will the flights actually happen, given the lack of government planning for international travel? QF had been selling seats from July, then late October – third time lucky?

Oh, there have been lots of announcements by governments, but little of the solid detail necessary for one of the famous “road maps” to actually produce results.

For most of those still stuck overseas, the “home by Christmas” claim never had a chance given the slow trialling of home quarantine and reduced hotel quarantine caps – unless they were movie or sports stars.

That’s despite would-be passengers being double-vaccinated, triple-tested and there being more COVID-19 floating around much of Sydney than some countries.

My travel professional believes the bad experiences of people caught by lockdowns and lockouts will curtail initial enthusiasm for travel beyond those desperate to see relatives and partners and young adventurers for whom being stuck somewhere for three months doesn’t matter much.

For all the “National Plan” promotion, there will still be lockdowns and lockouts as the pandemic of the unvaccinated has its way.

Following the social media pages of those stranded overseas finds a level of dismay with the attitude they have encountered from fellow Australians.

The attitude of “you’ve had plenty of time to come home, it’s your own fault, too bad” takes no account of people who have gone to see dying parents, to be with partners, who have finished long-term job commitments. It’s as bad as the Palaszczuk government’s attitude towards Queenslanders trying to get home.

And, beyond some government charter flights, where has the national carrier been in battling the bureaucracy and quarantine caps to serve the nation?

Those who have had to travel, those desperate to return, have had to rely on the foreign airlines to keep the Australian door ajar.

The skilled travel agents using all their experience and contacts to rescue people will remember the airlines and airline reps who were helpful. They will also remember those that were not.

And it won’t help Qantas’ relationship with agents that the airline slashed agents’ commission on international flights from 5 to 1 per cent on July 1.

Its announcement was a fine example of euphemism – Qantas was “updating” its commission structure.

It is easy enough to book domestic flights online, at least until flights are cancelled, but COVID-19 has proven the value of a good agent when the world turns tricky.

Some people trying to return have booked flights online that the better agents knew were never going to take off.

Qantas is taking the cost-cutting gamble that it doesn’t need travel agents, that loyalty scheme points will bind customers to it anyway.

Agents and at least some customers will remember when they had trouble, Singapore, Qatar, Emirates, Delta, United and Sri Lankan kept flying and were as reliable as flighty governments allowed them to be.

Qantas might call Australia “home”, but it’s not getting many people there.