Amid the current downturn in international air travel, many planes have been retired, returned to lessors or placed into deep storage – perhaps never to fly again. Larger and older aircraft are particularly affected, and Qantas & Virgin Australia have been no exception.
Sadly, one of many unintended consequences is the indefinite loss of Australia’s best in-flight products.
Qantas First class is grounded
Qantas’ announcement that it would mothball its entire A380 fleet – perhaps for three years – was already sad enough. But as the Airbus A380 is the only aircraft in the Qantas fleet to offer First class, the grounding also means the loss of Qantas First class indefinitely.
Even when a vaccine is distributed and international borders reopen, it will take some time before demand for international travel fully returns. Initially, when international travel resumes, Qantas will only need to use smaller aircraft such as the Boeing 787s for long-haul flights.
The Airbus A380s will simply be too large (and have too many premium seats, which will be hard to fill if business travel doesn’t recover) until demand returns to pre-pandemic levels. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is now forecasting that this won’t happen until 2024 – having revised its earlier prediction of 2023. So it could be a very long time before the A380 – and Qantas First class – returns to service.
It’s a shame because Qantas was halfway through upgrading its A380 cabins when the COVID-19 crisis began. (The cabin upgrades are now on hold, and the six unrefurbished A380s may never return to service.) Qantas had also just launched brand new First Class pyjamas by Martin Grant and new amenity kits from LaGaia Unedited.
What this means for the popular Qantas First Class lounges, once international travel resumes, is also uncertain. When things were looking bad for international travel in early March – but not yet dire – the brand new Qantas First Lounge in Singapore was one of the first close. This coincided with Qantas removing all First class service from Singapore.
Virgin Australia’s “the business” is gone
Australia’s second-largest airline, Virgin Australia, has never offered First class. But it did offer an excellent Business class product called “the business” on its Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. Both of these aircraft types are being removed from Virgin’s fleet permanently.
The retirement of Virgin’s Boeing 777s also means the end of the in-flight bar, a popular feature on trans-Pacific flights.
With no international travel at the moment, the loss of “the business” on flights to Los Angeles and Tokyo is a bit of a moot point. But those A330s were also regularly used on domestic flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. For the foreseeable future, Boeing 737s were vastly inferior reclining Business class seats will be used instead. This will give Qantas – which still operates Airbus A330s with lie-flat Business suites – a huge advantage when normal domestic travel resumes.
Virgin Australia says that it will consider resuming long-haul flights when sufficient demand returns. Realistically, this is unlikely to happen for several more years and Virgin will probably use Boeing 787s. Hopefully Virgin’s new long-haul Business class product will be as good as “the business” or better… although the in-flight bar probably won’t return.