The federal government will underwrite a limited network of Qantas and Virgin Australia domestic flights for at least the next eight weeks, starting from today.
Alone, the $165 million package will not be nearly enough to save Virgin Australia. But it will provide some further relief to the airlines, while ensuring that essential air connectivity between Australia’s capital cities and some regional centres is maintained over the coming months.
The subsidised domestic flights will enable the movement of essential workers and freight around the country. Subject to state-based border restrictions, they will also ensure that it is possible for returning overseas travellers that have been forced into quarantine outside of their home state to get home after their 14-day isolation period ends.
Until now, Qantas and Jetstar had reduced their combined domestic networks to 105 flights per week. Due to weak demand, Qantas says that most flights were no longer commercially viable. Meanwhile, Virgin Australia had been down to just 12 flights per week – six weekly return Melbourne-Sydney flights.
Under the government’s new plan, which was announced last night, Qantas and Jetstar will increase their combined schedule to 164 flights per week. Virgin Australia will operate 64 return flights each week. Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin will make seats available to the public on all flights, and if they make a loss, the federal government will cover the difference.
Tickets for the government-backed flights are available for sale on the respective airlines’ websites. If you must travel and would like to burn some frequent flyer points, reward seats are also available on most of the flights.
These are the domestic routes that Qantas Group airlines (Qantas, QantasLink and Jetstar) will be serving from next week:
Here is Virgin Australia’s new route network for the coming months:
If you are flying in the coming months, you can expect social distancing measures to apply. These include blocking Economy class middle seats and the aisle seats in Business class. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have also reduced their on-board service, with limited catering and no wifi or in-flight entertainment available.
At this stage, Qantas’ normal domestic schedules are due to resume on 1 June 2020. Virgin’s normal flights are currently scheduled to resume on 15 June. But it is almost certain that most of the domestic flights currently scheduled to operate in June will get cancelled in the near future. Both airlines simply haven’t updated their schedules beyond those dates yet.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: VA’s COVID-19 Minimal Network Schedule.