While the COVID-19 lockdowns continue, most of us are staying home and are not travelling. But some people still need to travel for work or compassionate reasons, which is why the federal government is subsidising domestic flights for the next two months.
Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and some regional airlines, including Regional Express and Airnorth, continue to operate limited scheduled domestic flights around Australia. But it’s not quite business as usual. Airport lounges are closed, in-flight meals are not being served, there is no in-flight entertainment and strict social distancing rules apply at the airport and on board.
Some states and territories have also effectively closed their borders. If you’re flying interstate, you may be required to complete a form and go into quarantine for 14 days after arrival.
So, what exactly can you expect if you are travelling on a domestic flight in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Middle seats blocked for social distancing
Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar are among the airlines that have blocked all middle seats in Economy class to allow for social distancing on board. This generally also means blocking aisle seats in Business class, so that nobody is sitting directly beside another passenger.
Regional Express is also attempting to apply social distancing on its flights, in addition to temperature testing at check-in.
“Although this is not required under any existing regulation, Rex endeavours to space out the seating allocation of all passengers to facilitate social distancing. Unrelated parties will not be assigned seats next to each other where possible,” Regional Express National Airports Manager David Brooksby said.
In the short term, this is somewhat good news for passengers as it means extra personal space on board. Besides, nobody really likes sitting in the middle seat anyway! But in the medium to long term, if airlines are forced not to sell a third of the available seats on each flight, this will lead to a sharp rise in airfares and an end to the low-cost carrier business model that relies on high load factors. (This is a discussion about this topic on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum.)
Reduced catering on Australian domestic flights
No Australian airlines are currently serving hot meals on their domestic flights due to COVID-19. This includes longer domestic flights to/from Perth, where meals are usually served, and applies to both Economy and Business class.
Both Qantas and Virgin Australia are providing a snack and a bottle of water to passengers in Economy class on all domestic flights. Virgin Australia normally has extra snacks and drinks available for sale on board, but it has temporarily suspended its buy-on-board retail menu.
Jetstar is not currently providing any on-board service to reduce interaction between passengers and crew. Regional Express too has flagged changes to its in-flight catering service “to minimise the risk of infection”.
In Qantas Business class, passengers can expect to receive a bottle of water and a snack box on domestic flights during COVID-19. The Qantas snack box contains packaged items such as crackers, chocolate and dried fruit.
Meanwhile, Virgin Australia is providing very limited catering in Business class. On a recent domestic flight in Virgin Business class, AFF member Max Samuels was offered either a chocolate brownie or beef jerky. However, a full range of drinks were still available.
Ok…. so there was no catering – the choice of a brownie or beef jerky- yuk. Who on earth would have suggested beef jerky as an option?
But, there was plenty of beer and wine – and with only 1 other pax in J the service was great. Nice crew, just happy to be at work! So I wasn’t really that disappointed in the end.
Passengers are encouraged to bring their own extra food and non-alcoholic drinks from home (as many airport shops and restaurants are also closed).
No wifi or in-flight entertainment
Qantas is not currently offering wifi or in-flight entertainment content on any of its flights. This includes the small number of long-haul international flights still operating at the moment. The decision was made at the start of April to flick the switches in order to cut costs at a time that most planes are grounded.
Qantas and Virgin Australia have also suspended publication of their in-flight magazines. When Qantas made the decision to suspend its in-flight magazine in late March, it had already printed the April edition. Rather than throwing them away, Qantas mailed some of the surplus magazines to Platinum One members.
Australian airport lounges closed
All airport lounges in Australia, including Qantas Club, Virgin Australia Lounge and Rex Lounge locations, have been closed due to government COVID-19 restrictions since 23 March 2020.
To compensate lounge members, both Qantas and Virgin Australia are extending paid lounge memberships by six months.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: What’s it like to fly right now (April 2020)?