The girl at the Qantas counter couldn’t have been more offhand. Qantas had lost the luggage of eight passengers when they arrived in Broome to join a Ponant cruise to the Kimberley.

“If you wait 48 hours we can give you $60 to spend in Kmart,” she said.

Where was our lost luggage now? “I don’t know – and until it is standing beside me I can’t tell you where it is. Or whether it was lost in Sydney, Perth or Broome.”

Our Ponant cruise was leaving the next day. Without luggage, much-needed medical supplies as well as smart attire for gala dinners, our cruise would have been much diminished. And in the case of medical suppliers highly risky. And, of course, we didn’t have 48 hours to qualify for that fashionable $60 outfit from Kmart.

But while it was nerve-racking, it was the way the staff handled the situation that did the most damage to the Qantas brand. They really couldn’t care less. Even more damaging – the handling company at Broome told us this happens “every couple of days – and sometimes the luggage never comes”.

We were told we’d be telephoned once the bags had arrived. Yet my details, left on a form at the airport, were wrongly logged online with a note that said I was uncontactable. No one was called. And we all congregated at the airport the next day to stand by the carousel hoping for the best.

Today The Financial Review publishes a report that shows a damning slump in the airline’s trust among Australians, with less than half saying they had faith in the brand. Rival Virgin stands at 60 per cent.

Why Qantas is failing

If anyone wants to know why Qantas shares are on a rollercoaster ride, why the ex-ECO Alan Joyce is an outcast and why it has plummeted in the most trusted brands surveys, it’s because of the way small incidents like this are treated.

Our flight from Sydney to Perth and Broome last month – QF649 – had been late but otherwise uneventful. Of course, we asked at the gate after a late connection what the chances were of our bags being left behind.

“None”, we were assured. “They are on the tarmac heading for your plane.”

Wrong! They were not even close to the plane. And they didn’t make the next flight either – we know, we went to the airport.

But that’s not the point. This is 2023 – lost luggage goes astray, right? However, the way the ground staff dismissed our concerns was what undermined the Qantas position.

We would have either missed our cruise or had a miserable time had our lost luggage not turned up the next day in the nick of time. But no one on the ground at Broome had a clue it was on its way. And their rank rude dismissal of our wishes to be kept informed told us everything about how much they gave a flying fox for our welfare.

What happened next?

When we turned up the next day, it was only the intervention of a Ponant staffer who sensible had Apple tags in her bags that allowed us to tell the Qantas staff that our bags were behind the doors of the baggage handling shed. And even then, we were made to wait 40 minutes.

This week, we were treated to an amazing hearing instigated by the ACCC, the government body charged with protecting consumer rights.

Qantas has been selling tickets for flights they had already cancelled. You’d think the airline would be apologetic. Not a bit of it.

The Qantas view: You don’t buy a ticket…

Apparently, when you buy a ticket on a Qantas flight you don’t buy a seat at all. You buy “a bundle of rights” which are transferable if things go wrong. You have no right to a seat on the flight you booked.

Find that strange? So did we. Here’s Qantas’ misguided argument. Apparently, the ACCC was operating under the misguided belief that the service Qantas supplied was for a particular flight.

“To the contrary, the service Qantas relevantly offers is a bundle of contractual rights which are consistent with Qantas’ promise to do its best to get consumers where they want to be on time,” the Qantas defence documents say. “That bundle of rights includes alternative options to which consumers become entitled in respect of cancelled flights but does not include any promise to provide a ‘particular flight’ or to operate to a particular schedule.”

Most people build their holiday plans around flight arrivals. And we arrived one day early in case of flight cancellations.

As it turned out, we were lucky. Our luggage arrived with an hour to spare.

But what about all those poor naive passengers who actually think that handing Qatnas money for a ticket actually means they will get them to their destination on time and with their luggage?

The Qantas view: Good luck with that!