Qantas (ASX:QAN) to replace airport service desks with kiosks, app

Airline continues its post-COVID-19 cost-cutting drive, but how will customers feel when there are delays and cancellations at the terminal?

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Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) will be permanently closing its sales desks at airports and reducing the opening hours of lost luggage desks.

This means customers will have to self-service any cancellations and 11th-hour changes through an electronic kiosk, online or on the telephone.

Manned check-in desks will be retained.

The airline confirmed the changes to The Motley Fool on Friday.

"We can't ignore the efficiencies that come with removing the traditional sales desks, particularly in the current environment," said Qantas executive manager Phil Capps.

"The main driver is an increasing shift towards people using our app to check in and manage their own bookings, particularly as we expand what the app can do. This was happening before COVID-19 but it has accelerated significantly since." 

He said "most" employees would be redeployed and about 100 job cuts would come through voluntary redundancies.

The Motley Fool understands the changes will come in the first half of next year. Qantas will be rolling out new functionality in its app and website in January that will contribute to the transition.

Impact on Qantas customers and workers

The Australian Services Union (ASU) expects the changes to result in "hundreds" of job losses.

The union's assistant national secretary Emeline Gaske said removal of in-person services would impact the most vulnerable customers the most.

"This is a huge problem for all passengers but especially for those needing a little extra help such as infrequent travellers, older Australians and people with a disability," she said.

"They're abolishing the sales desk and the service desk including for premium and frequent flyers, meaning everything will be self service and if you have a problem – you're on your own."

Gaske claimed Qantas had already trialled – then aborted – technology to replace service desks back in February.

"They're reheating this proposal at the worst possible time – during a pandemic, in a busy holiday season, as borders are starting to re-open. It's a recipe for disaster," she said.

"Whatever can be put online without massive disruption to passengers has already been done. What they're removing now is the 'last resort' customer service people need when all else fails."

This latest cost-cutting measure comes on top of a September announcement that Qantas would cut more than 2,400 ground crew jobs. The airline just this week added 48,000 seats and 282 flights to its weekly schedule after the Victoria-NSW border was reopened.

Motley Fool contributor Tony Yoo owns shares of Qantas Airways Limited. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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