Qantas to skip Singapore, fly Sydney & Melbourne to London via Darwin

The Kangaroo Route will replace both its Singapore and Perth stopovers with Darwin until at least April 2022.

By David Flynn, October 8 2021
Qantas to skip Singapore, fly Sydney & Melbourne to London via Darwin

Everyone expected that the shape of international travel would be different once overseas flights resumed, but few people – if indeed anybody – could have predicted this.

When Qantas restarts its Sydney-London and Melbourne-London flights in the coming months, the airline says they'll both operate via Darwin, with the NT capital filling in for Singapore – in the case of the Sydney QF1/QF2 service – and Perth (Melbourne's QF9/QF10).

The airline this week reached agreement with the Northern Territory Government and Darwin Airport to temporarily reroute its flights from Melbourne and Sydney through Darwin.

"The Darwin hub arrangement will be in place in time for borders reopening from 14 November 2021 until at least April 2022 when London flights are scheduled to operate via Perth again," the airline confirmed in a statement issued this evening.

"While this is a temporary change to the route, Qantas will watch how it performs and is open-minded about what it could lead to down the track."

The NT Government describes the arrangement as creating "a travel bubble at the Darwin International Airport terminal for passengers travelling from Melbourne and Sydney to London via Darwin."

Darwin-based passengers will also be able to book the direct QF1 or QF9 flights to London.

Sydney-Darwin-London from 14 November

Sydney-Darwin-London flights will begin on 14 November, with the Melbourne-Darwin-London route currently scheduled to begin on 18 December 2021 – although this could also start earlier, depending on the outcome of Qantas' discussions with the Victorian Government on shorter quarantine arrangements for returning travellers.

"The Kangaroo Route is one of the most iconic on the Qantas international network and we are delighted that Darwin will play a vital role in Australia's post pandemic reopening to the world," said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.

"Qantas has been flying repatriation services from London to Darwin as part of the airline’s efforts to help bring Australians home over the past 12 months, so our pilots already have extensive experience operating this particular route."

Perth infamously ruled itself out of the running due to West Australia's insistence on keeping its borders closed until what state premier Mark McGowan has said could be March or April 2022.

Singapore – which has long been the familiar stopover for Qantas' Kangaroo Route – will also be skipped, likely owing to issues with transit arrangements at Changi Airport, although Qantas didn't offer any explanation or comment on that front.

The new Darwin-centric QF1 will take off from 14 November 2021, departing Sydney five times a week at 6.30pm; it'll land in Darwin at 9.25pm for a brief refuelling stop ahead of the 13,800km, 17h20m journey to London's Heathrow airport.

How the Darwin stopover will work

So what does this mean for travellers flying between Sydney or Melbourne and London via Darwin?

Qantas says that passenger transit arrangements will be split into two stages to reflect Covid-safe arrangements in the Territory itself.

In stage one, which presumably starts with QF1 on 14 November, transiting passengers from all Australian states – or returning from London – will be able to visit Darwin Airport's international Catalina Lounge as well as shops and cafes in the international terminal.

Qantas hasn't yet advised on lounge eligibility or access for the Catalina Lounge.

Passengers travelling from London to Sydney and Melbourne via Darwin and wanting to travel onwards to other Australian cities may also be subject to state and territory quarantine requirements.

In stage two – for which Qantas hasn't shared a timeframe, but might be based on an NT vaccination threshold – transiting passengers will have the option to leave the terminal and visit Darwin, providing a tourism boost for the top-end city.

As previously and extensively reported, all passengers on international Qantas flights must be fully-vaccinated with a TGA-approved or recognised vaccine (apart from some exemptions made for medical reasons and children).

They'll also be required to return a negative PCR Covid test at least 48 hours prior to departure, and upon their return to New South Wales, spend seven days in home quarantine.

Also read: When Australia’s borders reopen, will travel insurance cover Covid-19?

08 Oct 2021

Total posts 1

Looks like they will be using the Catalina Lounge at DIA for Transit. Exciting for Darwin…..there have been just over 100 repeat flights into DRW now since Oct 2020

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2018

Total posts 2

Will they open the international lounge in Sydney or will passenger do the first sector as domestic?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 452

The flights will depart from the international terminals in Sydney and Melbourne.

Don’t think even vaccinated international tourists will bother with all the hassle about entering Australia in the near future. 

Until all state & territory borders stay open permanently for international travellers without quarantine, these will all be basically repatriation or exile flights until then. 

I’m sure the Darwin - London flights will shutdown the instant WA decides to reopen.

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 52

Not sure all of the flights would switch to Perth.  Sydney via Darwin to London is about 750km shorter than via Perth.  Is there anything in Perth that would justify another hour in the air?  The Melbourne flights could pick up the Perth-London passengers, so no advantage for Qantas either.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 516

Sorry, no, Melbournians won't want to fly via Perth over Darwin, not now.  As far as I'm concerned, until there's sufficient demand from Perth to fill a plane (highly unlikely!), Perth passengers can fly domestic to DRW* then enter via the international terminal and board the first of SYD or MEL departing thereafter.  Mark McGowan can be thanked for that outcome (if it arises).    

* I'd hope Qantas would provide the domestic leg of PER-DWN all within the one, international airfare.  

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 52

Well...

SYD-PER-LHR ~= 17791km

SYD-DRW-LHR ~= 17022km 

MEL-PER-LHR ~= 17222km

MEL-DRW-LHR ~= 17021km

So from Sydney the difference is 769 km, from Melbourne it's only 201km so would just be one factor amongst others such as winds, passenger loads, price of fuel.

And just for comparison...

SYD-SIN-LHR ~= 17177km

MEL-SIN-LHR ~= 16934km

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 516

Yep, who'd ever have thought that MEL is closer to DRW than is SYD.  

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 454

I assume that only those who are eligible / entitled to have lounge access can actually go into the DRW international lounge since there is surely no capacity to take the entire plane pax, meaning the rest gets to walk/sit around the designated bubble area of the airport. This arrangement will become complicated when or if other international flights stars arriving at DRW.

For example just last week Jetstar Asia had announced to fly three times weekly between Singapore & Darwin from dec 20, 2021.

I presume the CEO of Jetstar Asia made some assumptions about sin-Australia travel bubble although neither government had made any specific announcement or detailed “hints “ of any forthcoming arrangement since ScoMo’s grand international travel “announcible” (ie a Yes Prime Minister term) last week,

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 689

I'm pretty sure "via Darwin" will be a winner for Qantas rather than "via Perth".  To myself it's an appealing idea to stay 24 - 48 in Darwin rather than my 24 - 48 stop over in Singapore.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 516

Absolutely.  

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 247

This doesn’t fill me with confidence about the Qantas schedule. This is the third schedule change since flights have been announced. 

First an evening departure via Singapore, then a morning departure via Singapore, and now an unknown departure time via Darwin. Flights online still show via Singapore. What’s next?

13 Dec 2012

Total posts 4

Pretty sure QF will operate via PER again when borders open. I find it hard to see QF giving up the business class mining corporates and the large VFR market between PER and the UK. And QF writing-off it’s PER transit lounge? - I don’t think so.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 668

I wouldn't be so sure of that, Chookysoo. There are some of us here that recall QF dropping all PER-Asia services bar a single B737 service to SIN a number of years ago. It lasted for almost 2 years, if I'm not mistaken.

It sure is interesting to see QF revert to DRW for international. Given that QF had major arguments with DRW airport pricing for both international and domestic services .. and is still embroiled with a PER airport standoff, perhaps we should look to Broome or Cairns being the next, new international jumping-off points? LOL ~ although - I shouldn't laugh - I do recall QF operating a regular, scheduled Townsville-Honolulu-Townsville with a B747 many years ago.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 96

@kimshep. +1

I'm also deeply skeptical about the long term prospects of PER - LHR flights. Given that QF has announced that their 'Project Sunrise' jets could be ready as early as 2024. That completely obviates the need for a PER stopover. And right now with this announcement of DRW as the designated stopover, the prospect of PER seems diminishing by the week. Oh, sure PER - LHR flights might well return next year.  But for how long? It's becoming increasingly clear that routing is a temporary fix, not a long term prospect. And as for QF's transit lounge in PER. It's a costly investment, yes. But lounges exist to support flights; not the other way around, as someone implied earlier.

03 May 2021

Total posts 30

Sunnybrae I live in Perth, and have flown on that flight, out of all the capital cities Perth has the most English people ever capita, barely anyone actually goes from Melbourne to London on QF9, most people on that flight were from Perth, so I can’t see Qantas wanting to get rid of it, the route was very popular pre-pandemic.

03 May 2021

Total posts 30

Yep, because most people who flew that flight were from Perth, and the route was one of their most profitable, Darwin might be good for short term when wa is still closed, but like before no one will be interested in Darwin once more tings open up… just sit for wa to get a delta outbreak they can’t control and they’ll have to follow along with what other states are doing…

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 36

SmileSmi, do you have the actual passenger figures to justify that claim ?  It's certainly not my understanding, I believe the majority of the passengers on that flight were from Melbourne.  

03 May 2021

Total posts 30

Yes… the number of people who got on that flight at Perth… Also Perth literally has more English people living there then Melbourne

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1384

Ian the figures were around 40% Perth joining.

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 36

Thanks patrickk, so 60% from Melbourne, and 40% joining in Perth, some of whom would presumably have been from SA.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1384

I I When it comes to outbound passengers, 50% are originating in Perth, 25% are coming from Melbourne, 7% from Sydney, 6% from Brisbane, and 4% from Adelaide (so that represents 92% of passengers)

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 19

Whether it's 40% or 50% Perth-originating outbound passengers, that settles the case for when, not if, QF 9/10 return to the Perth hub. Darwin, with just 160,000 people in the immediate urban area, simply cannot compete with the 2 million plus market of Perth.

As an aside, I used to be impressed by how many Melbourne - Perth domestic passengers poured off QF 9 when it arrived each evening pre-COVID. It then followed that the PER-LHR leg filled up with joining passengers from Perth and other cities.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 336

Darwin Airport lists the Catalina Lounge as having capacity for "up to 70 passengers" (https://www.darwinairport.com.au/news/airport-operated-premium-international-lounge-open-darwin-airport) so given there are 42 business class seats on a Qantas Boeing 787, I'd say that all business class passengers would get lounge access along with Chairman's Lounge and Platinum One members, but everyone else who'd usually get lounge access will be handed something like a $20 voucher to use at the airport cafe.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 668

By routing the LHR flight through DRW, it theoretically maintains COVID 'integrity' during the international sector, rather than doing an intermediate stop via a third country (SIN) .. and provides access to the Howard Springs 'vacation  resort' for anyone who has contracted the virus.

The only thing that is missing from AJ's announcement is whether travellers from 'closed' states will be able to fly to DRW (on a domestic connecter) and join the international flight?

Re: SIN: 

So, I guess today's QF story calls into question the previously pre-announced QF return to SIN which was 18 December ? If this date still stands, it would surely mean that such service(s) would be a SYD-SIN terminator. Which would allow QF to use internationally configured A330's, rather than the ULH-capable B787-9's. 

Then again, QF may be perfectly happy to use JQ as the SIN carrier, in the interim. 

There's more than enough demand between Singapore and most Australian cities to justify running dedicated QF flights. Singapore is more of a business destination rather than a tourist one, so QF would always be the preference on that route over JQ. 

Prior to this announcement, it was the two flights between Singapore and Sydney. QF1 and QF81. Now it would be down to the one daily return QF81/82 on the A330-300. 

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 19

The media statement by the NT Chief Minister, Michael Gunner says "Territorians will be able to join the flights in Darwin and fly non-stop to London", and he's repeated that in his cat-that-got-the-cream Facebook video. So interstate border controls permitting, travellers will be able to join flights to London both in originating ports and Darwin. 

Getting to home states again on domestic legs after a flight from LHR is another matter. Michael Gunner has flagged to-be-announced revised quarantine arrangements for returning Territorians, possibly along the lines of NSW and SA home quarantine.

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 36

I would suspect Territorians may be able to join in Darwin, and leave in Darwin on the return flight, but initially I would not expect anyone from other states to be able to use domestic flights after.  Further quarantining arrangements will need by the various States to be made before others from say SA or WA are likely to be able to fly into Darwin and then transfer to domestic for the final leg home.  Arrangements will clearly be a moving feast for some months to come. 

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1384

Just did some dummy bookings, plenty of seats going to UK, even sale fares; coming back is another matter. Many routings via LA and BA and very high prices. Seems flights are checkers coming to Oz from Blighty.

07 Nov 2020

Total posts 31

I wonder if the via Darwin option might be a longer term thing.  I think direct Perth - London flights will return, however Darwin makes a lot of sense for London flights from the east coast.  I'm in Brisbane and would never go via Perth, but I would go via Darwin.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1384

BCOZ they may make Perth the Melbourne London route and Darwin the Brisbane (and some Sydney) London route as it may be cheaper than Singapore option. I’m sure the costs are being haggled. An upgrade of the Darwin lounge as well as a way of keeping domestic passengers separate long term may be a sticking point.

07 Nov 2020

Total posts 31

Yes that's logical.  Darwin might also make sense for transiting passengers from places like Cairns.

is there any clarity on whether the flights via Singapore for QF1/QF2 will resume in December or it it likely to stay with Darwin until next year? The messaging seems to change....

Why would any sane person put themselves through a Sydney/Darwin/London flight in a Qantas Nightmareliner? Come on people. Fly Singapore Airlines Emirates or Qatar and enjoy the journey.

25 Jun 2018

Total posts 13

An interesting analysis.   I’m sure that Qantas has done some market surveys to see what passengers want, and even taken that into its decision.


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