Qantas will ground two-thirds of its flagship Airbus A380 fleet and drop the Sydney-Singapore-London 'Kangaroo Route' for double-daily Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to London via Perth, as the coronavirus continues to sap global demand for travel.
The A380s will also be replaced by Boeing 787s from Sydney to Dallas/Forth Worth and Melbourne to Los Angeles, leaving Sydney-LAX as Qantas' only superjumbo route. The airline expects these changes to remain in place until at least September 2020.
But it's not only the A380 routes which are being felled. Qantas will also suspend its Melbourne-San Franciso and Brisbane-San Francisco Boeing 787 flights, delay the launch of its new Brisbane-Chicago service, and cancel the mid-year seasonal Sydney-Vancouver Boeing 787.
“In the past fortnight we’ve seen a sharp drop in bookings on our international network as the global coronavirus spread continues," says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
“We expect lower demand to continue for the next several months, so rather than taking a piecemeal approach we’re cutting capacity out to mid-September. This improves our ability to reduce costs as well as giving more certainty to the market, customers and our people."
Qantas flights cut, and exec salaries too
The continued and unpredictable sweep of the coronavirus across Europe and North America over the past fortnight, as well as its continued spread through Asia, has seen travel demand and forward bookings nose-dive, with no clear sign of when they will recover.
"We retain the flexibility to cut further or to put capacity back in as this situation develops," adds Joyce, who will draw no salary until at least July 2020, while the Qantas board and executive team will take a 30% cut in fees and salaries.
In light of the dramatic cuts – which represent a total 23% reduction in international capacity, or the equivalent of grounding 38 aircraft, all Qantas and Jetstar employees will be asked to take paid or unpaid leave.
Here's a rundown of the dramatic changes that will reshape the Qantas international network from the coming weeks through to mid-September 2020.
Qantas flights to London now via Perth, not Singapore
As of April 20, Qantas' flagship QF1/QF2 service to London via Singapore will be re-routed via Perth and become a non-stop Boeing 787-9 to London.
This will run alongside the current QF9/QF10 service, resulting in two daily Perth-London flights on the red-tailed Dreamliner.
The daily QF37/QF38 Melbourne-Singapore flights will be cancelled as of April 20, while the sibling QF35/QF36 service – which was already being downgraded from an Airbus A380 to a Boeing 787 from March 29 – will now shift to an Airbus A330 as of May 4.
Closure of Qantas Singapore First Lounge
With fewer passengers flying to Singapore, and none flying through Singapore to London or back due to the rerouting of QF1/QF2 via Perth – as well as the withdrawal of the first class-equipped A380s from the Lion City – Qantas will temporarily pull down the shutters on its Singapore first class lounge, which opened only in November 2019.
The Qantas Singapore First Lounge will close as of Monday April 20 for an estimated five months through to at least September 2020, or until the A380s resume Singapore-London flights and Qantas believes there is sufficient demand to re-open the lounge.
In the meantime, all loungeworthy travellers will be directed to the Qantas Singapore Business Lounge, which has recently been expanded to increase capacity to almost 600 guests.
Qantas flights to the USA
Melbourne-San Francisco and Brisbane-San Francisco flights will be suspended from April 18.
Qantas' Sydney-San Francisco service will continue, but with its Boeing 787 swapped back to the Boeing 747 as of April 18 to help cater for SF-bound flyers from Melbourne and Brisbane who need to re-route their travel via Sydney.
The non-stop Brisbane-Chicago, due to launch on April 15, is being suspended until further notice, while the Sydney-Vancouver seasonal service, slated to run across June-July, is being withdrawn altogether.
Daily Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth flights will continue, but from April 20 will use a Boeing 787 in place of an Airbus A380.
Likewise, a Boeing 787 will replace the Melbourne-Los Angeles Airbus A380 from June 1.
Qantas flights to Japan
Qantas' daily Sydney-Tokyo/Haneda flights will shift down from a Boeing 747 to an Airbus A330 from March 30.
Cancellations have previously been flagged for Brisbane-Tokyo, Melbourne -Tokyo, Sydney-Osaka and Sydney-Sapporo, although no details are at hand.
Qantas flights to Hong Kong, China
Having previously announced that Sydney-Hong Kong flights would be cut back to one per day as of March 30 with the cancellation of QF127/QF128, this reduced frequency will now continue through until -September.
Melbourne-Hong Kong's QF29/QF30 is being further wound back to four flights per week, with Brisbane-Hong Kong (QF97/98) trimmed to three flights per week.
Qantas will also extend the suspension of its Sydney-Shanghai flights "until at least mid-July".
In addition, Qantas' Sydney-Santiago flights will continue on a Boeing 747 instead of the planned change to a Boeing 787 as of August 1.
Travel arrangements for affected passengers
Qantas says it will contact customers affected by these changes in the coming week, although "customers who booked via a travel agent (including online travel agents) will be contacted by their agent rather than the airline."
The airline says that customers flying internationally can expect to be offered an alternative flight via another capital city or a partner airline, or an alternative day.
Qantas is also waiving change fees for new international bookings made from today until the end of March, if customers change their travel plans, for travel commencing up to 30 June 2020, although "customers will need to pay any fare difference".
Airbus A380 upgrades to continue, early exit for Boeing 747s?
Two of Qantas' Airbus A380s are currently being fitted with the latest seats and suites, and Joyce says the superjumbo upgrade program will continue as planned.
“We still have every intent to reconfigure those aircraft and keep them in the fleet for the next decade because when this rebounds, we’ll need those aircraft back."
“It’s hard to predict how long this situation will last, which is why we’re moving now to make sure we remain well positioned," he added. "But we know it will pass, and we’ll be well positioned to take advantage of opportunities when it does.”
Joyce also said that the airline's five remaining Boeing 747 jumbo jets due to be retired by the end of 2020 could be put out to pasture even sooner, saying "if things were really bad, we would bring the retirement forward."
At the same time, Qantas hopes to push back its planned purchase of Airbus A350 jets for non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York.
"We would rather wait for the coronavirus issue to be out of the way before we put a firm aircraft order in for the A350," Joyce says.