Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways and Air New Zealand said Thursday (4 June) they would add capacity on their domestic routes as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions eased in some areas. Qantas said it would lift domestic capacity to 15 percent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of June, up from 5 percent now. Air New Zealand said it would raise domestic capacity to 55 percent of normal levels during July and August, up from 20 percent after a strict nationwide lockdown was lifted in May. The initial Qantas increase equates to more than 300 return flights a week.
Qantas and low-cost arm Jetstar are adding flights from Sydney to Ballina, near the popular tourist destination of Byron Bay in the state’s north, with Jetstar advertising flexible one-way sale fares from A$35 (US$24.13). Queensland, a favoured destination in the southern hemisphere winter due to its warmer weather, has so far kept it state borders closed.
As part of the Qantas Group’s ‘Fly Well’ program, Qantas and Jetstar will have a range of measures in place from 12 June 2020 to ensure a safe environment at airports and on-board aircraft and to give customers extra peace of mind. This includes contact-less check-in, enhanced cleaning, and masks and sanitising wipes provided to all customers.
“We know there is a lot of pent-up demand for air travel and we are already seeing a big increase in customers booking and planning flights in the weeks and months ahead,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said. “We are gradually adding flights in June as demand levels increase, which will go from 5 percent of pre-crisis levels currently to 15 percent by late June. We can quickly ramp up flying in time for the July school holidays if border restrictions have eased more by then. Normally, we plan our capacity months in advance, but in the current climate we need to be flexible to respond to changing restrictions and demand levels.”
Air New Zealand said it plans to operate around 55 percent of its usual domestic capacity (compared to pre-COVID-19 levels) during July and August. Since the start of Alert Level 2 the airline has been flying to the majority of the domestic ports it serviced pre-COVID-19, albeit with reduced frequencies. Its Timaru-Wellington and Taupo-Auckland routes will also resume.
Air New Zealand General Manager Networks Scott Carr says the airline continues to further build its domestic schedule. “We’ve been encouraged by demand from leisure travellers recently and we’re also expecting demand for business travel to continue to build. As a result, we have been working to add more flying to our domestic schedule from next month and this includes additional services for the July school holidays. From next month, we’ll resume our Invercargill-Auckland A320 jet service which will operate four return services a week and we’ll also resume operating our Invercargill-Wellington, Christchurch-Rotorua and Christchurch-New Plymouth routes. These routes will add further direct connections for customers travelling between the North and South Islands.”
Air New Zealand is not proposing Tasman operations until such time that the Tasman borders are open and only with the support of governments on both sides, the airline said.
The news of the expanded Qantas and Jetstar service was met with smiles at the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, which said the additional flights for June and July could help ensure Australians can book their trips to, and within Victoria, in time for the winter school holidays. The council’s chief executive, Felicia Mariani, said “unlike other states, Victoria’s borders have remained open. With high demand and July school holidays approaching, today’s announcement of additional services to Victoria provides greater capacity to visit Melbourne and its regions. The increase in intrastate flights to Mildura ensures the northwestern corner of the state and the Murray Region are easily accessible for the domestic travel market, and offers a fantastic nature-based holiday for many Australian families keen to experience the outdoors after several months of being cooped up inside.