Regional Express has cancelled some of its Sydney-Melbourne flights for the first week of March, just as the airline mounts its ambitious challenge to Qantas and Virgin Australia for east coast Boeing 737 jet services.
Rex will instead begin its assault on the nation's most popular air travel route with only one aircraft flying three return services per day, with one of those services suspended on March 1 – the prestigious launch day of inaugural flights – in order to "accommodate launch ceremonies in both Melbourne and Sydney," a Rex spokesman tells Executive Traveller.
The spokesman said the drop in first-week frequency was triggered by Melbourne's recent COVID-19 outbreak, which saw Terminal 4 – home to Regional Express, among other airlines – classified as a key coronavirus exposure site after a positive case worked one shift at T4's Brunetti Cafe.
"Crew have been affected by the Melbourne Airport outbreak and are in compulsory 14-day quarantine," the spokesman said. "As a result, we need to reduce our services for the first week to one aircraft with three returns."
Several Executive Traveller readers who had booked onto Rex's first flights have since been advised by the airline of a "schedule change" and offered to be rebooked onto the next available service.
However, the airline intends to "reach three aircraft and nine returns by the fourth week of March," the spokesman confirmed.
Up next, Brisbane...
Rex has leased six Boeing 737-800 aircraft – all of which previously flew with Virgin Australia, and as such feature Virgin's familiar business class and economy seats and cabin interiors – and plans to add Sydney-Brisbane flights to its nascent jet network in April, with Brisbane-Melbourne to be considered for a later date.
"We don’t want to put a hard and fast date on it, because we feel we need the flexibility in choosing dates that suit us, rather than finding ourselves locked into pre-determined dates," Rex Deputy Chairman John Sharp told Executive Traveller in December 2020.
"I think our plan will be to move with the market," and to look at Brisbane-Melbourne flights "as we get more aircraft down the track, and the situation evolves."
However, if things go well, Sharp wants to see as many as 40 Rex Boeing 737s jets linking every capital city across Australia.
"By the end of 2022... Rex's ambition is to be a sizeable domestic airline operator with a fleet of 30 or maybe 40, maybe even more narrow-bodied single-aisle aircraft operating on the domestic network around Australia," Sharp remarked at the CAPA Live aviation conference in November 2020.
Kicking off a price war
For now, Sharp has set his sights on shaking up the Sydney-Melbourne market against incumbents Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar, with cut-rate fares as his opening salvo.
Rex kicked off the sale of its Sydney-Melbourne flights in December 2020 at $79 for one-way economy and $299 for one-way business class, but earlier this month slashed those already-compelling prices to $49 for economy and $199 for business class across March.
Virgin was quick to match Rex dollar-for-dollar, with the added lure of double Velocity Points, while Qantas and Jetstar took a scythe to their lead-in economy fares at $110 and $39, respectively.