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Bumpy start to holidays for travellers as Qantas staff shortage leads to luggage lag

<span>Photograph: Con Chronis/AAP</span>
Photograph: Con Chronis/AAP

Qantas passengers are starting their holidays without their bags, as the airline strains under demand.

The delays have forced travellers to spend hundreds of dollars on new clothes with some waiting almost a week for bags to arrive.

Geoff White and his partner flew from Brisbane to Queenstown in New Zealand on Thursday 9 June. Their bag arrived six days later on the last night of their holiday.

Related: Our dream holiday is at risk from passport issues

“Our plane took off on time and the pilot announced some bags hadn’t made it and they would be on the next flight to Sydney in 30 minutes. We had a two-hour connection so thought all would be OK.

“When we landed in Queenstown neither of our bags arrived.”

The couple completed a lost bag form and two days later one case, full of their toiletries arrived. But the main case, with all of their snow gear for the hike they were about to go on, did not arrive until the last day of their holiday.

“We have come on a six-day holiday, with hiking, and had no clothes with us other than what we flew in,” White said.

The couple were forced to start their holiday with a trip to the shops to purchase new clothes including expensive snow gear.

“Luckily we were wearing our walking shoes.”

Maddy Warren travelled from Adelaide to see her parents in New Zealand on 15 June, but her luggage was not there when she arrived.

Maddy and her mother called Qantas and the baggage contractor Menzies Aviation more than 20 times, tweeted them directly and sent two emails, but were unable to get any answers about when her bag would arrive. It turned up two days later.

“It was just really frustrating. It was only 38 hours, but no one was saying anything,” Warren said.

Louis, who did not want to give his surname, works as a baggage handler for Rex. He said the staff shortage was being felt across every airline.

“Virgin are short, Swissport who do Qantas, they’re advertising a $3k bonus for anyone who joins. They’re trying to get people in but I think the nature of the job and low wage makes it unattractive for new people.”

The hourly pay is $23 and the work is hard, physically demanding and stressful.

“It’s extremely busy, we’re run off our feet and we don’t have enough staff,” Louis said.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the baggage issue had been driven by the fact that thousands of handlers lost their jobs during the pandemic – a claim Qantas denies.

“Until decent aviation jobs with secure conditions are protected through federal regulation, expect the long queues, baggage delays, chaos and confusion we’ve seen across airports this long weekend to become permanent industry features,” Kaine said.

Related: Qantas announces plans for non-stop flights from Sydney to New York and London

“Aviation was teetering on the edge long before the pandemic as a result of years of attacks on secure jobs by corporate bullies like Qantas. Covid stand-downs, inadequate financial support, and Qantas’s illegal outsourcing of close to 2,000 workers sent the industry off a cliff.”

During the April school holidays, office staff in Sydney and Melbourne were asked to step in and help out on the ground.

“We need your help,” the note read.

A spokesperson for Qantas said the airline was struggling with a labour shortage.

“We apologise to these customers for the delay in getting their baggage,” they said.

“There’s a well-documented labour shortage across the economy, as well as a continued impact from Covid-related staff absences and some issues with baggage systems which are maintained by airports.”

In the past fortnight, the airline has carried more than 236,000 bags, with only a relatively small number not making it to the baggage carousel after their flight, they said.

The issue has not come about because of the company’s decision 18 months ago to outsource ground handling jobs, they said.

“This is happening across the aviation industry including with other airlines, at airport-run security screening and in many other countries.”