With Qantas expecting Australia’s international borders to reopen by October, Jetstar is mapping out its return to overseas and twin-aisle flying – a plan that could see the airline’s Boeing 787s taking off on domestic routes too.
Albeit temporary, the move would find a fourth competitor in the domestic business class space, joining its parent airline Qantas, as well as rival Virgin Australia and new entrant Regional Express.
“We could look at getting some Boeing 787s flying domestically earlier” than when international borders reopen, Jetstar CEO Gareth Evans said at today’s CAPA Live summit, “particularly if domestic borders stay open.”
“If we do see (domestic) borders remaining open through the middle of the year, it’d be great to have a couple of 787s up domestically … especially if we need some more domestic lift around the peak periods.”
Prior to COVID-19, Jetstar’s Dreamliners were only used on international routes, plus a small number of attached domestic connections.
Tickets could be purchased on those domestic-only hops – including in business class – but the flights were impractical for most business travellers given the need to fly through the international terminals: adding significant time for processing, and stricter security screening requirements.
“They’re a great product,” Evans says of Jetstar’s Boeing 787s, “but to get some of our pilots and cabin crew associated with those aircraft flying again, it’d be great.”
Travel bubbles for New Zealand, Taiwan
With Australia approaching one year since its international borders were closed, Jetstar plans to jump back into the air at the first opportunity.
When asked which overseas routes would be priorities for the airline, Evans ambitiously shared that Jetstar will fly “anywhere and everywhere that Australians want to travel to.”
That’s expected to start with New Zealand, although any hopes of a trans-Tasman travel bubble by the end of March are well and truly popped.
“We are assuming that New Zealand opens at the beginning of July, so let’s hope we can get that together with the Kiwis, and get a New Zealand bubble open.”
“Obviously, Bali is a priority for us – it’s our biggest international market – I think that’s where a lot of Australians want to go to … but we may also need to be flexible from a destination perspective, depending on what is open and when, if it happens in a piecemeal way.”
If Australia eventually maps out travel bubbles with destinations not normally served by Jetstar, the Australian airline would strongly consider launching flights, particularly while fewer alternatives exist.
“Taiwan is a potential country that could open as a bubble, because they’ve had very low rates of infection. So, if Taiwan opens as a bubble, would we think of flying there? Yes, we absolutely would.”
“I expect what will happen, is that if only Taiwan and New Zealand – and I’ll make one up, Singapore – are open, Australians will probably want to go to Taiwan, and if there’s demand there, we’ll have a look at flying there,” Evans says.
Jetstar’s Airbus A321neos nudged to 2022-23
The newest addition to the Jetstar fleet – the Airbus A321neo – was first expected to arrive in 2020, allowing Jetstar to fly further using smaller planes: especially so the longer-range A321XLR, being suited to both domestic and international flights.
Back in May 2020, the Qantas Group shared that delivery of these jets wouldn’t take place in the “short term”. Evans now confirms “they won’t be coming this year,” either.
“It’s out into the 2022-23 timeframe. Clearly, we’re really looking forward to getting them, they do a lot for us… we can fly (A321neos) to Bali and can free up 787s,” or can fly the A321XLR “into Japan from northern Australia as well.”
“They can be flexed between international and domestic, and that is very valuable.”
Jetstar had originally considered business class for its next-gen jets, but ultimately decided on an all-economy layout, making room for 232 passengers.
That leaves the Boeing 787s as Jetstar’s flagship plane with business class, commonly seen flying to places like Honolulu, Singapore and Japan prior to COVID-19.