Coronavirus: Qantas culls its flying fleet to "three aircraft"

Qantas rolls out a drastic downsizing of its domestic operations.

By David Flynn, April 11 2020
Coronavirus: Qantas culls its flying fleet to

Long the dominant force in Australia's skies, Qantas has pared its domestic network and its fleet to the bone beginning this Easter weekend as demand for air travel reaches rock bottom.

"For the next few weeks we’ll essentially be flying three aircraft – a Qantas 737, a Jetstar A320 and a QantasLink Dash 8 – so that will be the entire domestic network," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told airline staff during a Town Hall teleconference held briefing on Wednesday April 8.

As of Friday April 10 the airline slashed routes across the country, driven by a dark alignment of factors including states closing their borders and governments warning people to stay at home, and in many cases restricting all but essential activities.

One flight per day

The once-crowded air corridor between Sydney and Melbourne, which typically sees around 50 Qantas and Jetstar flights each day, has been reduced to just five flights per week.

On some days this is a tiny QantasLink Dash 8 turboprop which travels via Canberra – the last red-tailed link between the nation's capital and it's two largest cities. On other days, it's joined by a Qantas Boeing 737 which darts directly between Sydney and Melbourne.

Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth have almost vanished from Qantas' network map.

Between Sydney and Perth – a route which at the heights of the Qantas-Virgin 'transcontinental turf war' in 2011-2012 even saw a mighty 364-seat Qantas Boeing 747 thunder its way onto the east-west roster, alongside a handful of daily Airbus A330s – is now stripped back to a 174-seat Boeing 737 running just twice a week.

Still more cuts could come

"What we've seen for both Qantas and Jetstar is a continuing reduction in demand on all of our flights," Qantas Domestic CEO Andrew David said during the Qantas all-hands teleconference, adding that "especially with all the states around the country introducing different travel restrictions, demand has petty much vanished."

"We’ve got some flights where we’ve got one or two passengers on board. That's clearly not sustainable, it's burning cash when we can least afford it."

David described the revised network as one of "minimum connections between cities and regions" but indicated yet more cuts could follow, saying "we'll continue to monitor the demand levels and we will make further reductions on top of the reductions we’ve already made if those services continue to burn cash."

A Qantas spokesperson clarified that "as the national carrier, we continue to operate flights for the resources sector within Western Australia and Queensland and we’re also maintaining key freight links with our fleet of freighter aircraft."

Although Qantas has been pushing passengers booked on cancelled flights to accept travel vouchers which can be held as credit against future trips, customers also have the right to request a full refund if the airline

  • is unable to carry you on a confirmed reservation
  • delays your flight to the extent that you must cancel your travel plans
  • makes a “significant change” to your flight’s scheduled timings, and no other flights are acceptable to you
  • cancels your flight and cannot offer you a suitable alternative replacement.

Read more: How to get a refund on cancelled Qantas, Virgin Australia flights

The slow road to recovery

Joyce has previously revealed that the airline has drawn up plans should the COVID-19 pandemic continue "for three months, six months, nine months, a year”. Nobody knows when this is going to end.”

However, Qantas has formed a dedicated “startup team” tasked with ramping up operations when the time comes.

“The start-up team is working out what that looks like so that we can activate it when the market turns, so we can be ahead of the curve, because we need to be ahead of the curve to help Australia get back on its feet."

Domestic travel is widely expected to rebound first, but build slowly, with the first wave of some business and personal travellers venturing out between six and nine months after COVID-19 is declared as being "under control".

International travel will gain steam through to the 18 month mark, led by business travellers and mid-to high-tier frequent flyers, with holiday-makers trailing by a further six months – which could mean air travel may not be back to normal, or at least as close to the old normal as the new normal will get, until 2023.

Read more: Post-coronavirus, 'normal' travel may not resume until 2023


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

11 Apr 2020

Total posts 1

Qantaslink still appear to be operating a lot more than a single dash 8, for now at least. Maybe Joyce's statement has been misinterpreted?

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 389

I don't think his statement has been misinterpreted, he's just been quoted in the heading saying exactly what he said on the phone call. It's amazing when you think about it, so few routes, people living near the airport must be loving the serenity! LOL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2013

Total posts 7

Check the schedules. It's actually even less than the reported flights this week before the new schedule starts. Dire.


14 Jun 2018

Total posts 12

This must exclude mining Charter Flights. These seem to be still happening on a regular basis out of Brisbane and I would imagine Perth

09 Apr 2020

Total posts 11

Fwe people sticking the boot in on VA the other day for doing the same... it's tough out there! Both open for charter work....

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 232

When Virgin paired back to one flight it was unfairly and totally incorrectly seen as catastrophic for the that Airline, clearly it's the same for both groups and Virgin just acted quicker and for the exact same reasons Qantas has see the stated above, the whole industry is effected equally.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 389

I think Virgin got 'outed' when ET broke the story, maybe they intended to try and not make much fuss about it, just like Qantas has done by not even revealing the extent of its schedule. But this is just smart by both airlines to conserve cash, especially when almost nobody is flying.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 232

Mowbaggie exactly Virgin unfairly gets the boot, and Qantas is seen as rational. Go figure??

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 253

When the Virgin article came out on ET regarding only 1 B737 flight between Syd and Mel, the comments from armchair experts were it's the beginning of their demise. Sigh this must just be the beginning of the end for Qantas too..I honestly think the people wanting to see the end of Virgin are Qantas staff and loyalists who are trying to save their own skin caus at end of day - Qantas is bigger, larger and consequently has more to lose and a longer way down then Virgin. Alan Joyce knows it, gone are his glory days - the only positive thing Qantas can hope for is Virgins collapse. End of day no airline will be the same after this.

01 Mar 2019

Total posts 9

Qantas link will be the key here ,with Dash 8 servicing Sydney -Melbourne Till things improve ,

14 Apr 2020

Total posts 7

Qantas & Jetstar are already selling tickets online for destinations like Singapore and Phuket which aren't accepting foreigners. This is misleading and deceptive because you cannot use the tickets. Also, the author failed to mention Qantas and Jetstar and liable to pay accomodation and meal compensation of $150 plus $30 per day for ticket holders stranded at "Away from Home" airports for international and Australian residents. They did a deal with the Government accepting $720 million to cancel all the flights. International airlines are continuing to fly in and out of Australia everyday.


Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2017

Total posts 65

What is said in the article about 5 flights per week doesn't match what you can book on the Qantas web site.

It is showing 3 direct flights on May 7th. Two QF one JQ in addition to the Qantas link dash 8 via Canberra.

Could it be 5 per day (direct and indirect)? Or is the web site just showing phantom flights?

14 Apr 2020

Total posts 7

Qantas and Jetstar are using their websites to raise working capital and have no intention of delivering all the flights. What they then do is offer credit vouchers and increase the cost of the ticket prices down the track forcing voucher holders to pay more money to use the vouchers before they expire. It's highly unethical but they never get punished because the shareholders pay the fines which where $1.95 million in 2019 for misleading and deceptive conduct.

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