Strange times call for strange measures, as Qantas' flagship Airbus A380 to London adopts Darwin rather than Singapore as its stopover, before continuing for almost 17 hours straight onto Heathrow.
It's the first time the Top End will host the red-tailed superjumbo on a commercial flight, and the first time that Darwin and London will be linked by a direct service – let alone Qantas’ prized QF1/QF2 route.
Qantas scrambled to activate Darwin as its 'Plan B' over the weekend as Singapore unexpectedly closed its borders to transit travellers, leaving the airline to find a new stopover city where the superjumbo could refuel before setting off on its marathon second leg.
Darwin has a geographical advantage for the lumbering Airbus A380 – the shortest direct route from Sydney to London happens to track over the Northern Territory, making the NT capital the perfect place for the obligatory fuel stop without deviating far from that optimal route.
However, unlike the previous Singapore stopover of QF1 and QF2, all passengers will stay on board the A380 during its 90 minutes in Darwin – this is a quick 'gas and go' stop.
For the same reason, Qantas isn't selling the Sydney-Darwin or Darwin-Sydney legs on their own: or indeed, Darwin-London or London-Darwin.
The Kangaroo Route hops via Darwin
This unique take on the Kangaroo Route will last for only a handful of days, ahead of Qantas grounding all international flights by the end of March.
QF1 from Sydney to Darwin is wheels-up at 5pm, reaching the NT capital at 9:15pm local time after a journey of 5hrs 45min. Then, it’s onwards to London at 11pm, touching down at 6:15am the next calendar day after spending 16hrs 45min in the air.
The journey back is a little shorter, with QF2 jetting to Darwin in 16hrs 10min – pushing back at 10:05pm local time in London to reach Darwin at 11:45pm the next calendar day.
Concluding the flight after a 90-minute transit, QF2 from Darwin to Sydney takes to the skies at 1:15am and pulls into Sydney at 7am, after that final 4hr 15min hop.
As Qantas prepares to suspend international flights in response to the coronavirus crisis and various government restrictions impacting international travel, the last QF1 departure from Sydney is currently set for Thursday March 26, with the final QF2 leaving London on March 27, before these flights are paused.
Ironically, in the late 1930s, Darwin was one stop on Qantas' Sydney to Singapore Empire Class flying boat service – a trip that used to take four days, although the 16 passengers enjoyed “the most luxurious saloons ever prepared in an aircraft” spread over a series of tiered cabins including a smoking room and bunk-like sleeping berths.