Qantas is once again flying to South Africa, with Johannesburg seeing the first red-tailed jet in almost two years since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 and initial 'rescue flights' to bring stranded Australians home.
The airline's rebooted Sydney-Johannesburg service currently flies three days a week – on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – with a Boeing 787 taking over from the now-retired Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
The Dreamliner will offer a far superior experience on the 14-hour trek, due not only to its superior seats in business, premium economy and economy but a quieter and smoother ride which also reduces the impact of jetlag through features such as a lower cabin altitude and higher humidity.
Johannesburg is one of the first former 747 routes to spring back to life since the jumbo saw its last days with Qantas in mid-2020, with plans for Sydney-Tokyo to follow.
In addition, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has previously flagged the prospect of direct flights between Perth and Johannesburg – a route which in pre-Covid times was exclusive to South African Airways.
However, that long-troubled airline has only just emerged from bankruptcy in September 2021, after being grounded for more than 18 months, and could still merge with struggling Kenya Airways to create what Kenya's president described in his New Years's address to the nation as a new 'Pan-African airline with unmatched continental reach and global coverage."
Qantas has long been keen to challenge SAA on the Perth-Johannesburg route, and planned to launch four direct flights a week in late 2018 on a seasonal basis from November-March using an Airbus A330.
Perth-Johannesburg still on the radar?
However, in June 2018 the airline revealed it had scrapped those plane due to an ongoing dispute with Perth Airport – particularly with regard to Qantas' desire to run its Perth flights from the international wing of its integrated Terminal 3-Terminal 4 hub, rather than Perth's dedicated T1 international terminal used by other airlines.
This would streamline connection for Qantas' domestic passengers flying to Perth to make the journey to Johannesburg, and remove the need for aircraft to be towed between the domestic and international terminals.
"We’re very keen on South Africa (and) we think it's a good growth opportunity for us," Joyce told the Reuters Next online forum in early 2021.
"And if we can resolve our dispute with Perth Airport, we will start the Perth-Jo'burg service, which is on our list of new routes, and we think that will be very successful," he added.
Speaking with Executive Traveller last month, Joyce said Qantas would continue to push new pins into its international network map over 2022, but with more of a focus on leisure travel and the ‘visiting friends and relatives’ market, which is enjoying a post-pandemic surge following almost two years of lockdown.
“What we’re doing at the moment is picking routes where we know there's a huge VFR traffic base,” Joyce explained.
“India is a big market for that, and that's why we went in… and we were right, there was huge demand.”
“And with Rome, with the big Italian communities in Melbourne and Sydney we thought the peak summer season would support the basis of that service and then we can tap into tourism on top of that.”
“We have three new 787s arriving from July, which opens up an opportunity for us to expand the international network,” Joyce added, saying the Dreamliners “have huge capabilities to do routes that we hadn’t considered before.”
“So watch this space,” Joyce teased, “because we have a range of new international routes to announce over the next couple of months.”