Special Qantas Flights to UK Uncompetitive

Qantas 787
Qantas will operate six commercial flights from Darwin to London Heathrow over the coming month.

Over the coming month, Qantas will operate six “special commercial flights” from Darwin to London. In each instance, the Boeing 787s need to position to London anyway to operate repatriation flights back to Darwin on behalf of DFAT. So, Qantas has decided to sell tickets on the outbound sectors as well.

“As the national carrier, we’re proud to operate selected flights to bring more people home during this unprecedented time,” the Qantas website says about these one-way flights from Darwin to London.

But, unless you’re already in Darwin and happen to need to fly non-stop to London, it would make very little sense to book a seat on one of these flights.

Significantly reduced service

The Qantas website warns that services on these special flights, which are intended for repatriation purposes, will be “significantly reduced”. There will only be limited food provided onboard, along with bottles of water. This includes Premium Economy and Business Class.

The catering situation is so dire, in fact, that Qantas is recommending passengers also bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks on board, noting that any drinks will need to comply with LAGs rules (i.e. be under 100mL or purchased after clearing security at the airport).

Furthermore, seat selection will not be available and no frequent flyer benefits will apply. Passengers on these flights will not earn any Qantas Frequent Flyer points or status credits, and there is no possibility to upgrade with points. Essentially, these “special commercial flights” are being treated the same as charter flights.

Price premium

Despite the limited service on board, Qantas is charging significantly more than other airlines for a seat on one of these services to London.

For Economy Class, Qantas is charging from $1,243 one-way. Premium Economy costs from $3,060.

Qantas Economy & Premium Economy fares from DRW to LHR next month.
Qantas Economy & Premium Economy fares from DRW to LHR next month. Screenshot from Qantas website.

In Business Class, prices start from $7,792 one-way but are as high as $10,060 for some tickets.

Qantas Business fares from DRW to LHR next month
Qantas Business fares from DRW to LHR next month. Screenshot from Qantas website.

Yet, other full-service airlines are offering cheaper airfares from cities all across Australia to London – and their fares include all the usual perks like frequent flyer points and meals on board!

In Economy Class, at least 9 airlines have cheaper fares available. This includes Singapore Airlines, which offers another option to fly to the UK without having to quarantine on arrival.

Economy airfares from Australia to London available from 16-20 August 2021. Screenshot from ITA Matrix.

Singapore Airlines also has cheaper Premium Economy fares…

Premium Economy airfares from Australia to London available from 16-20 August 2021. Screenshot from ITA Matrix.

And numerous airlines have Business Class fares available from Australia to London next month for thousands of dollars less than Qantas.

Business Class airfares from Australia to London available from 16-20 August 2021. Screenshot from ITA Matrix.

Admittedly, if you were to fly to the UK with some of these airlines, you would need to enter quarantine on arrival due to the respective transit points being on the UK’s amber or red list. But Singapore Airlines offers plenty of full-service flights via Singapore, which is on the green list, at a lower price than Qantas. Why pay more to get less?

Qantas can quite easily get away with providing less service on the inbound legs of these repatriation flights from the UK to Australia, because demand for seats is extremely high. Returning Australians on these flights are gladly (relatively speaking, anyway) paying thousands of dollars to at least get a guaranteed seat back to Australia.

But there are currently plenty of seats available on outbound flights departing from Australia, which aren’t subject to Australia’s restrictive passenger caps. That means there is plenty of competition, and Qantas’ special commercial flights are simply not competitive.

What’s more, the Qantas flights are only available to book from Darwin. So if you’re in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or anywhere else in Australia, you would also have to first buy a ticket to get to Darwin.

The Boeing 787s operating these flights need to get to London anyway, so you can’t blame Qantas for trying to sell a few seats that would otherwise remain empty. In fact, there may be a few Brits currently trying to return from Darwin who appreciate the non-stop service. But in this instance, the price is not right.


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I don’t think it’s that uncompetitive. You need to remember that these aren’t regular Qantas flights hence the service is limited and I think the premium is justified for a nonstop route. Out of all the options shown on the ITA matrix screenshots only the flights via Singapore and Hong Kong are worth taking as all other options via any other city require quarantine upon arrival in the UK. Adding to that in Singapore, Australia is currently a restricted destination meaning when you get off your flight, the entire transit time is spent in a single holding room with people… Read more »


What a shock and surprise to see the ‘national carrier’ gouging customers when it has an ‘advantage’ but then begs and pleads for people to support them when they’re on the ropes.

What’s the bet they’ve asked staff to volunteer to operate these flights whilst charging the Australian taxpayer full whack to operate these flights on behalf of the government.


Just had a look, and yeah interesting. checked DRW-LHR 6 August and first it was offering direct flights on a selection of days. Then its offering me routing DRW-BNE-DXB-LHR in Y for $1,485 and J for $6,942. With points, SCs and service. You’d have to be desperate for a direct flight to pay extra.

Now I can’t pull up the direct flights at all. But codeshares every day. Wait, they’re back again! Another WTF QF IT day.

cheers skip


But if you fly DRW-LHR then you don’t have to isolate on arrival in the UK (just a test).

If you transit in any amber or red list country then you’re considered to have been in that place even if you only stop in that airport for an hour.

In the case of BNE-DXB-LHR with just a 1hr stop not leaving the airport, as DXB is in a red list country you would be required to go into hotel quarantine upon arrival despite not leaving the airport.


Ah, yes, I see the point of the direct flight. And that might explain why they are being booked up – at least in Y+, which is being offered on fewer dates than a few hours ago.

I was also able to construct a booking BNE-DRW-LHR online as a multi city booking.

cheers skip


There’s that ‘national carrier’ claim again…