Two short domestic holiday season flights on Qantas were on-time and cost less than Virgin Blue, which seems to be a common experience these days.

But Qantas customer service has lost the plot when it comes to encouraging passengers to save the company money by promising them faster and easier check-in procedures if they do it on-line.

There were at least eight check in counters signposted at Qantas domestic at Melbourne Airport yesterday. Two for fuddy duddy computer illiterates, which were staffed, and six for on-line bag droppers, of which only two were staffed, despite it being one of the busier days of the year.

A somewhat embarrassed Qantas person who could have operated one of the empty bag drop counters was intercepting those holding home printed boarding passes who had expected a quick bag drop and directing them around the back to a long shuffling line of unhappy customers which began behind the counters and snaked around to the front of them. Those who did things the old, ‘slow’ and supposedly more labor intensive way were walking straight into the terminal and getting through the outmoded check-in process in a fraction of the time.

Rebellion was simmering. A steady stream of annoyed digitally literate Qantas flyers were quitting the supposedly fast lane and going to the ‘slow’ lines and savings themselves up to 10 minutes. Maybe half the ‘old fashioned’ check-in customers were really on-line boarding pass holders who were concerned about missing flights and thus connections in other states. And even then the old fashioned process coped easily with the numbers while productivity at processing the checked bags for on-line customers nearly ground to a halt.

There is no excuse for this. On-line check-ins have been around for years. The stuff-up shows what happens when terminal staffing is cut to levels guaranteed to keep customer service on the ground second rate compared to Virgin Blue.

This ingrained managerial contempt for the customer at the most obvious and fundamental of levels is something Alan Joyce could have eradicated in a fraction of the time he has wasted on being the dummy bidder for BA’s infatuation with Iberia.

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