Qantas will no longer fly from Perth to London when international flights resume from mid-December 2021, due to Western Australia's determination to keep its borders closed when most of the country reopens by the end of this year.
The airline's prestigious Boeing 787-9 direct Perth-London route will be suspended "until at least April 2022", Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce confirmed today, with Perth to be replaced by either Darwin or Singapore.
"At this stage, WA doesn't intend to open to international travel until sometime next year, so we'll unfortunately have to temporarily move our Perth-London service until at least April 2022," Joyce said.
This would mean that QF9 temporarily flies either Melbourne-Darwin-London or Melbourne-Singapore-London.
Qantas has gained considerable familiarity with Darwin due to a series of repatriation flights over the past 12 months, and the airline says it has entered "detailed discussions with the NT Government and Darwin Airport to assess operating the direct London flight from Darwin during this time."
Those discussions for what would be a daily Melbourne-Darwin-London service "focus on the logistics of domestic and international transit" – more to the point, if the NT Government will permit those transits, both of inbound London passengers and Australians connecting to Darwin from other states.
However, as a time-proven stopover for the Kangaroo Route, Singapore remains a solid fallback.
"If this service can't operate through Darwin, it will instead fly Melbourne-Singapore-London until at least April 2022," Qantas said.
The Darwin vs Singapore decision is likely to be made within the next two weeks, although the airline "looks forward to operating this flight via Perth again when circumstances allow."
Qantas first flagged the potential Darwin detour last month, although WA did not subsequently budge on border controls; the airline today closed reservations for the Perth-London flight through to March 26, 2022.
Darwin vs Singapore on the Kangaroo Route
On the one hand, routing flights via Darwin could make the journey easier for travellers – particularly in light of COVID-19.
By not visiting a third country during the trip, passengers would arrive in the UK directly from Australia, and so would only need to comply with UK/Australia entry requirements.
Routing via Singapore would instead rely on The Lion City being treated the same way as Australia and the United Kingdom when it comes to quarantine.
Of course, Darwin Airport hasn't traditionally been big for Qantas international flights, with the airline having only a single Qantas Club lounge in the domestic section of Darwin Airport.
Although accessible before international departures and providing shower facilities, it's certainly not in the same league as Qantas' Singapore's lounges.
As Qantas did when overseas flights first resumed from Sydney and Melbourne, it could well open that first class lounge to all eligible lounge guests in the early days.
Which route the airline will take remains to be seen, however, with both having distinct advantages.
Western Australia also locked out of domestic travel
The state's tough stance on borders is also expected to see it closed to arrivals from New South Wales and Victoria into next year.
While Qantas will continue running five return flights a week from both Sydney and Melbourne to Perth for essential travellers, it now doesn't expect WA's border to come down until February 2022.
"Based on our discussions with Western Australia, we know their borders won’t be open to New South Wales and Victoria until early next year," continues Joyce.
As a result, "we’ve sadly had to cancel the flying we had planned on those routes in the lead-up to Christmas."
However, the airline does expect WA to relax its border controls on Queensland travellers in the coming weeks – which currently require 14 days of self-isolation on arrival in WA – and stands ready to "adjust its schedules in response."
Previously: Qantas says it could fly to London via Darwin