United Airlines has this morning advised that it will continue direct flights between Sydney and San Francisco, reversing an overnight decision to pull out of Australia.
PREVIOUS [March 21, 2020] Once a highly-competitive route where five airlines battled it out for business travellers and holiday-makers alike, the skies between Australia and the USA will be strikingly empty from next weekend.
The busy trans-Pacific corridor is the latest casualty of the coronavirus and the pandemic-inspired travel bans which have seen countries raise their borders and employers enact travel bans which keep staff on the ground.
Qantas, Virgin Australia, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have all suspended the flights which until recently ferried thousands of passengers every day on seventeen non-stop routes: from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with the Texas hubs of Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.
So buoyant was the market that Qantas was set to launch a non-stop flight from Brisbane to Chicago – the first direct link between Australia and the Windy City.
From hero to zero
Airlines tempted high flyers with premium lounges featuring à la carte menus and cocktail bars at either end of the journey.
In the air, the latest generation of business class seats – and in the case of Qantas, first class suites on its Airbus A380 superjumbo – made the 14-15 hour trek more bearable thanks to lie-flat beds.
Then seismic shockwave of Covid-19 hit. By the end of March airlines will have closed those lounges, parked those jets and stood down most of the crew and ground staff who have often become familiar faces to frequent flyers.
From April, Qantas will stand ready to mount repatriation flights to bring stranded Australians home and into a mandatory 14-day period of self-isolation.
The long haul
For those who still need to travel between Australia and the mainland USA, the few options which remain could be arduous ones.
Hawaiian Airlines and Air Canada, which offered flights to the US via Honolulu and Vancouver, have also cancelled services to Australia.
While New Zealand has banned foreigners from entering the country, Australian citizens, residents and their immediate family are permitted to transit, with AirNZ still offering flights to several US destinations – at least for the time being.
Cathay Pacific will retain three flights per week connecting Sydney to Los Angeles via Hong Kong, while Singapore Airlines offers non-stop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York on selected days. Other Asian airlines in the mix include ANA and Japan Airlines.
The Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways also continue to connect Australia to North America, although at upwards of 30 hours' in total travel time this is certainly the long way there.