Double-daily Qantas Boeing 787-9 flights between Perth and London? The airline’s flagship QF1 ‘Kangaroo Route’ service moving from an Airbus A380 superjumbo to a Dreamliner?
It almost happened – in fact, it was due to start on April 20 – before the coronavirus moved from an Asian epidemic to a global pandemic, grounding all international Qantas flights in the process.
And with all of Qantas’ Airbus A380s mothballed until at least late 2023, the aborted Sydney-Perth-London Boeing 787 service might still make a return in years to come.
In looking back at how this played out, it’s also a reminder of how quickly COVID-19 changed the aviation landscape.
Countdown to a shutdown
On February 1, Qantas joined a dozen other airlines in suspending all flights to mainland China in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The airline said its decision “follows entry restrictions imposed by countries including Singapore and the United States, which impact the movement of crew who work across the Qantas International network.”
“These entry restrictions pose significant logistical challenges for rostering crew to operate mainland China services, leading to the need to temporarily suspend these flights.”
Less than three weeks later, on February 20, Qantas announced plans to reduce capacity to Singapore and Hong Kong – including downgrading its Melbourne-Singapore Airbus A380 service to a Boeing 787, and later to an Airbus A330 – as the growing coronavirus stormcloud sapped travel demand across Asia.
By March 10 the coronavirus had stepped onto the global stage, and Qantas moved to ground two-thirds of its flagship Airbus A380 fleet.
This included dropping the Sydney-Singapore-London ‘Kangaroo Route’ for a daily Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Sydney to London via Perth.
“In the past fortnight we’ve seen a sharp drop in bookings on our international network as the global coronavirus spread continues,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce remarked at the time.
Reshaping and rerouting QF1
April 20 was to see Qantas’ flagship QF1/QF2 service re-routed via Perth, to run alongside the QF9/QF10 Melbourne-Perth-London service – resulting in twice-daily Perth-London flights on the red-tailed Dreamliner.
(With fewer passengers flying to Singapore, and none flying through Singapore to London or back due to the rerouting of QF1/QF2 via Perth, Qantas also said it would temporarily pull down the shutters on its Singapore first class lounge, which had opened just five months before.)
Of course, the ink was barely dry on that plan when one week later, on March 19, Qantas announced the suspension of all international flights and the Federal Government introduced mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travellers arriving from overseas.
The ban on Australians headed overseas travel has recently been extended to March 2021 – which will mark a full 12 months since the country’s borders where slammed shut in the face of COVID-19.
Also read: Supersonic dreams – how Qantas almost flew the Concorde