Qantas will reduce its flights to Hong Kong through to at least June 2020 as the deadly coronavirus and related travel restrictions carve into passenger demand on the usually busy route.
The airline's daytime Sydney-Hong Kong flight, QF127 – plus its overnight return leg as QF128 – are both axed from March 30 until May 25 2020, leaving Sydney with only a daily Airbus A330 flight sans premium economy, as is currently available aboard the Boeing 787 as serves QF127/128.
Out of Melbourne, the QF29/QF30 flights to and from Hong Kong will be pared back to five days a week from February 26 through until "at least the end of May", generally skipping Mondays and Wednesdays.
(As of March 2 the aircraft used for this route will also change from a Boeing 787-9 to an Airbus A330-200, which has 61 more seats than the Dreamliner but lacks premium economy.)
Qantas' Brisbane-Hong Kong return flights (QF97/98) likewise drop from a daily service to running between four and five times each week from February 23 to March 29, then no more than four times per week until late May, and don't return to a daily flight until at least mid-June.
"We are cancelling some return flights from Australia to Hong Kong in February and March to better match the demand we are seeing," a Qantas spokesperson confirmed to Executive Traveller in mid-February.
A statement later released by Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce added, "Coronavirus resulted in the suspension of our flights to mainland China and we’re now seeing some secondary impacts with weaker demand on Hong Kong, Singapore and to a lesser extent Japan."
"We can extend how long the cuts are in place, we can deepen them or we can add seats back in if the demand is there. This is an evolving situation that we’re monitoring closely."
Options for passengers on affected flights
Where a flight is no longer scheduled, passengers can choose to travel on the same dates as they'd originally planned on an alternative non-stop flight, can fly via another Australian city, or can amend the dates of their journey to fly non-stop, depending on the circumstances.
For example, passengers travelling from Sydney to Hong Kong on days where only a single daily flight continues to operate can choose to be reaccommodated onto that remaining flight, or could travel via Melbourne or Brisbane to keep timings closer to their planned schedule, subject to flight availability.
Similarly, passengers booked onto cancelled Melbourne-Hong Kong flights can choose to fly via Sydney or Brisbane on the same date as originally planned, or can fly non-stop from Melbourne to Hong Kong on a different date where flights continue to operate.
The same applies to those travelling from Brisbane, who can opt for a domestic detour via Sydney or Melbourne if their non-stop flight has been axed, or can shift the dates of their trip to avoid a southward connection.
However, Qantas will not be rebooking passengers onto flights operated by its Oneworld alliance partner Cathay Pacific.
"We will contact customers to make alternative arrangements," Qantas confirms.
The coronavirus epidemic has now claimed over 2,000 lives, with more than 75,000 confirmed cases worldwide.
Cathay Pacific's coronavirus cutbacks
Fellow Oneworld member airline Cathay Pacific will reduce the number of flights to its Hong Kong hub from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth beginning from early March.
Sydney will see between two and three flights each day, down from the standard four, while Cathay's Melbourne-Hong Kong schedule shows some days with just one flight compared to the normal three daily services.
"Due to the Novel Coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent reduction in flight demand, Cathay Pacific Group is reducing capacity across its network, inclusive of flights to and from Australia and New Zealand," a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman told Executive Traveller.
"The schedule reduction equates to approximately 37 per cent of flights from 1 to 28 March 2020."
Other airlines rethink HK flights
"We've observed a continuing decline in demand, following the recent civil unrest and growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in the greater region," noted Virgin Australia CCO John MacLeod, adding that "these recent factors demonstrate that Hong Kong is no longer a commercially viable route for us to continue operating."
Air Canada, ANA, British Airways and Singapore Airlines have cut back back on flights to Hong Kong, while American Airlines and United Airlines have suspended all Hong Kong routes until late April.
Additional reporting by David Flynn.