Knock me down with a feather

The letter request:

Could you spell out to Qantas that if they are going to make me spend the whole day waiting outside the airport with a dog because a bird has suicided into their plane they should at least give me a free meal when they squish me onto a red-eye.


The letter:

Dear Qantas,

The idiom ‘You could have knocked me over with a feather’ means that when someone is shocked or in some way unstable, they are easy to knock over. The imperative part of this being that the issue arises before the feather but the feather is not the issue.

Last month I think you got this saying roundabout. I’d driven more than four hours from home to Broome Airport and boarded your 11am flight direct to Melbourne. Your friendly sounding pilot informed us over the PA that in the last minute check, a few feathers had been found in the engine so we had to disembark. I trust your mechanical understanding of the intricacies of a plane more than my own so I went with this idea.

Your customer service team said not to worry, they’d get us on a plane at 1pm. Only a two-hour delay – no problem. Via Perth instead of direct to Melbourne – slightly annoying. After being issued with a boarding pass for this new flight I was called over the PA and told that plans had changed and I was off the 1pm flight but now flying at 7pm that night.

The prospect of six more hours at Broome Airport made me feel a little anxious but the icing on the cake was that I wasn’t travelling alone. I also had my friend’s large dog with me. My friend had called in this favour because I had a direct and therefore quicker, less-traumatising-for-animals, flight. This meant that the dog, who had already twice being coaxed into a cage and loaded as cargo, and I were reunited and required to spend six hours together in the Broome Airport carpark. I like this dog, we get along well, but I must admit, things got a little tense between us when we were still sitting in the carpark at 6pm that night, starving, thirsty and tired.

When you finally found a featherless plane (10 hours after I’d arrived at the airport) you had no vegetarian meal for me (I’d booked weeks earlier) and you were charging for drinks. I know, I was surprised too. I was sure that was Virgin’s shtick. And if there was ever a time I needed a free glass of wine this was it. The stopover in Perth (another hour or two) and the red-eye flight to Melbourne were similarly unpleasant. Again no vegetarian meal, unsympathetic staff and a super-crammed plane.

I arrived in Melbourne just after 6am having not slept in 24 hours. This gave me three hours to sort out the dog, get into the city, check into a hotel, shower, get dressed, eat, dose myself up on caffeine and get myself to the week-long course that my employer had paid big money for me to attend. My week was off to a pretty shit start.

I understand that I wasn’t the only one who had a bad day. I’m sure it wasn’t fun for the bird whose feathers were found in the engine or the people travelling with small children. I don’t want to tell you how to be Qantas as I’m sure you have your own ideas on that matter but, if I were knocked over by feather, this is what I would do:

I would stumble back onto my feet. I would feed and water my passengers consistently throughout the eight-hour delay and subsequent flights and stopovers. I would keep them informed about what was happening. I would word up staff on replacement planes and tell them it was likely that people would be tired and fed up and a little bit of tenderness wouldn’t go astray. I would tell them that if someone asks for their vegetarian meal and there isn’t one available, ‘That’s just the way it is’ is not an appropriate response. I would tell them they must steal the bread rolls from other peoples trays and grab the half-roll of mentos from their own handbag until they had cobbled together a meal. I would stand up tall and acknowledge that I had given an airplane’s worth of people the transit story from hell and I would try to make it up to them.

The other alternative is to get the idiom right. Offer a service robust enough to withstand the knock of a feather.