Qantas says it could fly to London via Darwin

Western Australia's domestic border restrictions could cost Perth its direct Heathrow flights, when international travel returns.

By Chris Chamberlin, August 26 2021
Qantas says it could fly to London via Darwin

Qantas caught the world's attention in 2017 with the debut of non-stop Boeing 787 flights between Australia and the UK, using Perth as a transit hub Down Under.

But fast-forward to today, and Western Australia's tough stance on domestic borders could see Qantas shift those flights to the Northern Territory instead – or route fewer flights westward.

Darwin has been home to many of the airline's repatriation flights throughout COVID.

In March 2020, it also served as a short-term springboard to the UK, with Airbus A380 services running from Sydney to Darwin and then onwards to London, and vice versa.

Read: Why Qantas is now running Darwin-London A380 flights

"We've got some good operational capability flying from Darwin to London, to Paris, to Frankfurt, to Istanbul, so we know that operation really well," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce hinted today.

Darwin the new London hub?

"Qantas’ ability to fly non-stop between Australia and London is expected to be in even higher demand post-COVID," Qantas observes.

"The airline is investigating using Darwin as a transit point, which has been Qantas’ main entry for repatriation flights, as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia."

If all Australia-UK flights moved to Darwin, this could see Qantas' transit hub at Perth Airport scrapped – including its purpose-built Transit Lounge – in favour of flying through the Top End.

"Discussions on this option are continuing," Qantas adds.

"I think it would be a terrible shame, if when we got to Christmas, from NSW you could visit your relatives in London, but can't visit your relatives in Perth," Joyce says.

"Hopefully ... we can get some consistency (on borders) ... and for us not to be a 'hermit nation' going forward."

Executive Traveller understands that Qantas still hopes to use Perth Airport for its London flying, particularly given its investment in lounge and transit infrastructure at Perth Airport.

However, WA's tight borders will make this a challenging prospect.

Qantas' call on Darwin adds pressure on WA Premier Mark McGowan to ease travel restrictions, by highlighting the loss WA's largest city will face – not only in flights, but also domestic and international tourism.

When Qantas' London-Perth flights were in full swing, many visitors from the UK took the opportunity to spend time in WA, before continuing the east coast.

Given the ability to fly non-stop from London, it also added to Perth's appeal as a destination in its own right, which would be reduced if it became accessible only via transit elsewhere.

Upgrades at Darwin Airport under review

If Qantas were to move its non-stop Australia-UK flights to a Darwin Airport hub, the airline would be looking to improve its lounge facilities in the NT capital.

Currently, the airline operates a large Qantas Club in the terminal, serving domestic and international flights.

Darwin doesn't feature a separate business class lounge, dedicated international Qantas lounge, or 'Transit Lounge' as in Perth, however.

"We have teams looking at what we do on lounges, as an example, if (Darwin) was a long-term decision, which potentially it could be," Joyce continues.

"In the short term, we'd operate there with what we have, to give people an option of staying in Australia to get to the UK directly, which we think there will be significant demand for."

"Given the conservative nature of Western Australia, we hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst, so if the only option to operate London flights is through Darwin, we think we've very capable of doing that."

Western Australia's tough stance on domestic borders has repeatedly seen the state fast to close to interstate travellers, but relatively slow to re-open and remove self-isolation requirements.

Perth Airport another pain point

Although not specifically cited by Qantas as part of its review into a Darwin detour, relations between the Flying Kangaroo and Perth Airport have often encountered turbulence.

While the two companies reached an agreement in time for the original Perth-London launch, the same hasn't been true of Qantas' other Perth plans.

Back in 2018, the airline had hoped to launch direct Perth-Johannesburg flights.

Qantas wanted these to operate from the same 'transit' precinct as its London departures, making for easy connections to and from domestic flights.

Perth Airport, on the other hand, insisted the Jo'burg jaunt departed from the other side of the airport, requiring planes to be towed, passengers to be bussed, and transit times extended.

After two months of negotiations, Qantas eventually pulled the pin on Perth-Johannesburg.

"I’ve never heard of an airport stopping an airline doing a new route, so they’re doing unbelievable things that they need to get resolved," Joyce said at the time.

Perth-Paris plans paused

In 2019, the airline's intended Perth-Paris flights also stalled before launch.

Perth Airport had again refused to permit those planes to depart from the same transit precinct as Perth-London.

The two companies had also been in a long-running dispute over the charges levied to airlines for the use of Perth Airport.

"Until that’s resolved, we’re not going to reward bad behaviour. We don’t think that’s the right thing to do with our business, so unfortunately, we’re not expanding (out of Perth) at the moment," Joyce said in 2019.

Those financial disputes were resolved in 2020 – by which time, international borders were closing due to COVID-19.

Whether Perth-Paris ultimately takes off, or Darwin nabs those direct flights to the City of Lights, will be interesting to watch.

Also read: Here’s when, and how, Qantas expects overseas flights to come back

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Aug 2021

Total posts 1

Flying from Brisbane, I would be very happy if they switched the hub from Perth to Darwin.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

It’s like Qantas has forgotten that many people who flew in that flight actually lived in Perth, eastern states already has their own London route

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

Suggest you have a chat to your premier then.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

The WA government spent 15 million dollars for that terminal and there are so many English people living in Perth so this whole plan is dumb.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Jun 2018

Total posts 4

Chat to your premier. He is the one not opening borders after 80% vaccination. 

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

If you could arrange somewhere for me to chat to my premier then that would be great!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 515

We have a lot of English speaking people also living in ADL, MEL and SYD.  I should have added BNE, MCY and CNS, but . . . sometimes their English need to be improved-ay (no offence to Queenslanders).  

The Chief Minister of NT (we call them 'Premiers' down here in the Lower-5 States), Michael Gunner (not 'Gonna') needs to quickly become 'Besties' with Captain AJ, because the secondary tourist revenue that would flow into the North is huuuuuge.  

Step lively, Chief Minister, or Mark McGowan is quite fairly gonna cut your lunch before you get the chance to cut his!!

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 986

With Singapore having a very similar strategy to Covid to what is being followed in Australia (high vaccination, continued control where necessary but as open as possible), I would think SIN would remain the top option for flights to LHR even if QF limit it that no pax transitting from anywhere other than AU ports can join the flight in SIN.  

QF already has good infrastructure with 2 lounges in SIN which can be progressively reopened as demand returns.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 515

At this current time, I suspect Captain AJ knows the whole of Australia (including many in WA) would support this idea with gusto.  Having all LHR flights transit in DRW would facilitate higher pax occupancy and probably more flights arriving into LHR at different times (slots permitting).  I'd much rather arrive LHR circa mid-day than 0500 when hotel rooms aren't available (without booking the previous night).   

I'm starting to be impressed by this guy, usually I find myself in disagreement with almost everything he says.  Alan, please, just get it done.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Feb 2017

Total posts 12

They could use the 330-200 theyre upgrading to do the bne-lax to also to drw-paris or drw- Frankfurt flights. Could be a good way to get the market going in the post covid climate 

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 271

So much better from the east coast than Perth. I’ve never understood why anyone would go to Perth over Singapore.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

I don’t know maybe business? Family?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

Some people prefer not to have to transfer in the middle east or even Asia for their own personal safety/security reasons.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1382

I did partly because the small airport and lounge was hassle free, Singapore simply too big. Also a non stop to coming back to Canberra helped.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Feb 2020

Total posts 5

In a normal situation, Perth would be the best place for QF to leave from for direct travel to any European city. But we don't live in normal times, and thanks to Premier McGowan, organizations like Qantas have less confidence in the WA Govt to provide an ongoing, reliable and enjoyable passenger experience.

DRW provides for the direct hop to Europe, which in a travel bubble world, reduces the risk of passengers getting stuck in between. They will need to do some work on their lounge offerings to make it an attractive option.

Go for it!

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

The NT also has strict border controls because there are a lot of vulnerable populations there, the argument of borders actually makes no sense, NT was the first state to close borders in the first place, no one lives in Darwin, and Sydney already has its own London route

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

If you don’t think they’ll find a way to make this work you’re joking.

NT has never declared anywhere an extreme risk zone.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

But no one lives in the NT, and for most people in the eastern states there are much better options when it comes to travelling to London. It’s not just WA with harsh borders, QLD and Victoria all have similar views for when and how to reopen but Qantas doesn’t punish those cities.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

If you think Dan will keep his borders closed he will need some more police pronto. The protests will turn violent and political. People in that state have had enough.

The Brisbane flights don’t start till February and Queensland will break open by then to save the remains of their tourism or they will have an incursion.

WA is the state on record saying they are winning for zero. QF have responded accordingly. It’s just business.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

I don’t know if you read the news or not but Queensland’s 1000 bed quarantine facility will be finished in March, and they want to use it for 14 day quarantine throughout 2022, so they’re not much different to WA, I do agree that pursuing 0 Covid past 80% is an insane idea, and pretty much defeats the whole purpose of vaccination targets. I also think that if the rest of the country will reopen their borders, then WA and QLD will follow as well.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

You can have zero Covid or a tourism industry. Pick one.

1000 beds is not even one days incoming passengers. Once the International border is opened, our wonderful Premier will be the emperor without clothes. Remember, the Feds own the land that the airports occupy. States are impotent in that respect. She will just have to get out of the way of the throngs.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1382

Reado the  Wagner’s own the airport, it is now at Toowoomba. The thousand beds may be enough for unvaccinated (approveb vaccines) visitors of whom there maybe many

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1382

The quarantine is for visitors not fully vaccinated Aussies returning. They Will/May quarantine at home.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 318

Great idea, it will be a couple of years before any business would consider Perth for anything with any confidence, Darwin would be a great option.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 96

Hope this isn’t just a bluff towards WA. I’d love this route (ex Mel). 

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 19

I suspect it is a negotiating ploy, though BNE-DRW-LHR or SYD-DRW-LHR 787 flights could make sense in addition to MEL-PER-LHR, especially if A380s don't return to the Kangaroo Route for a couple of years. Note also that as COVID hit us  in 2020, there were a few A380 DRW-LHR-DRW flights using Darwin as a tech stop only, in place of SIN. And I did see fare availability for DRW-LHR 787 repatriation positioning flights in 2020, though I doubt if there were many takers during the UK's COVID peak!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Aug 2021

Total posts 1

It's high time Australia should invest more in the WA infrastructures to reflect the importance of the WA State for its economic contribution to the country as a whole. Perth airport should be further upgraded to facilitate more direct flights, enticing not just QF but all other airlines, including other international ones to avail themselves to use WA was the western gateway. 

Without doubt, the Australian economy will be severely affected if it was WA and not the other Eastern states that was battling the COVID. It might even be prudent for the State to invest in other infrastructures in logistics and ports, if the Federal government is less inclined to do so. 

Of course, all other airports should have direct routing, Darwin included, if there was any economic demands for doing so. 

04 May 2015

Total posts 271

Is this comment satire? Perth already has 4 terminals, but for whatever reason, the airport itself doesn't seem to want the airlines to actually use them. Of course, that's when planes (and people) can even land over that way, which the WA government also doesn't seem to want most of the time.

I recall the airport in Perth is getting a train service, but it comes down to the same thing: if most people can't even use the infrastructure that WA already has, it's questionable why you'd go out spending money to build more.

If people from most of Australia could actually travel to Western Australia to grow businesses, invest, see friends and family (and so on), the picture could look very different. While the wall is up, interest from elsewhere will remain down.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 116

On one side of the country we have a premier saying build it and they will come (Palaszczuk) for the quarantine facilities. On the other side build it so we can tell them not to come. 4 terminals yet they’re sticking it to the local carrier. They’ve already lost Etihad, their Aura fights will reduce even post pandemic opening. They’re going to take a long time to rebuild and Qantas will do what’s best for their bottom line. Once you’ve alienated a customer it takes a long time to win them back. Plus NT needs a bit of a tourism boost anyway. 

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

Agree, WA has carried the economy during Covid, and Perth had the largest amount of English migrants per capita out of all the capital cities, not to mention the flight being like the most profitable on qantas’ network (pre Covid)

WA is hardly bigger than SA. No thought of building up Adelaide is there.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

In this case it's about range.  Qantas were also trying to operate a consolidation hub to bring SYD/BNE/MEL/ADL/CBR/HBA to PER and then one flight off to LHR.  Adelaide isn't in a favourable geographic location to do this compared to either PER or DRW if PER won't relent on controls.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

Because there are significantly less people in SA, bad location, and nothing to see or do

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 19

The Darwin Qantas Club is the best on the regional network, while Darwin Airport's comfortable Catalina Lounge in the international part of the terminal could be a stopgap or permanent transit lounge. There's also the very nice but under-utilised Wirraway Business Centre adjacent that could be converted into a dedicated QF transit lounge and made an airside facility. Lots of options. Now to aircondition the hot-as-hades aerobridges at that end of the Darwin terminal...

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

I think people would stand in a downpour on the tarmac if necessary to get out of Australia at this point. 

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 363

If this ever got off the ground, Darwin would be a transit hub much like the Abu Dhabi’s where you see 99.5% of passengers walk to the transit area and 0.5% heading to customs/immigration, which means the transit facilities will need to be international grade standard + airside and today that is not Darwin. So a lot of money to be spent on those improvements. Once upon a time QF used Darwin as stop northbound to Mumbai and it was a customer experience “challenge” with the very domestic/regional grade QF Club landslide and transit pax in J + QF Club members had to use the coffee shop in the transit area (during the stop), there were so many complaints I think the customer relations dept is still processing them today.

25 Jun 2018

Total posts 13

Isn’t it interesting watching 2 (near) monopolies negotiating in public.  (PER & Quaintarse).   Do it our way or else.   

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Apr 2017

Total posts 135

This is what I wanted to see from the beginning, it made more sense from a catchment area perspective - Perth can attract those from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Darwin can increase the catchment to all of those plus Brisbane, Gold Coast and more regional cities such as Cairns, Townsville, Canberra and even rural areas like Broome or Alice Springs.

Darwin is always "on the way" to Europe, and just makes more sense as a launching pad than Perth. I have not flown into Darwin in more than 10 years so not sure what the state of the airport is like but I would guess there needs to be some major improvement.

Unless direct traffic from Perth is a significant majority of course.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

16 Feb 2019

Total posts 4

I would take Darwin over Perth any day, fantastic lounge and great easy to navigate airport, for a stopover in either direction the laid back attitudes, reasonable prices and warmer weather have a greater pull than Perth which is way, way overpriced on every account.

03 May 2021

Total posts 29

This is simply just a threat from AJ there are so many English migrants living in Perth, and the route was one of the most profitable routes in Qantas’ history.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 Aug 2020

Total posts 34

But if you insist on covid zero, there won't be any flights.  It's not like the UK is covid zero, that's for sure!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 179

Anything that affects Mr smug, Mark McGowan, is very good in my book. The sooner he realises we are all one country the better. 


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