With border restrictions between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland being wound back, Australia’s ‘Golden Triangle’ of travel should be back in place from December 1.
That 'triangle', of course, covers flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (which represent a triangle when connected on a map).
For all but essential travellers, these routes had largely sat grounded since July, owing to various restrictions imposed by New South Wales and Queensland limiting entry and requiring quarantine.
But with those borders coming down, here's how the Golden Triangle is springing back to life.
Melbourne-Sydney flights the first to bounce back
The barriers to flying on what was previously Australia's busiest domestic route came down this week, with New South Wales abolishing its hard border to Victoria on Monday November 23.
This saw the return of Sydney-Melbourne flights for business travellers and holidaymakers, who are now able to freely dart between the two cities.
Sydney-Brisbane, Melbourne-Brisbane from Dec 1
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has now confirmed that the declaration of the Greater Sydney area as a coronavirus ‘hotspot’ would be withdrawn from December 1.
As a result, Sydneysiders, as well as other travellers who have entered ‘Greater Sydney’, will be welcomed back to Queensland from that date – including on Sydney-Brisbane flights – with no need to quarantine.
Likewise, with Victoria now recording a straight 28 days of no untraced COVID-19 community transmission, all travellers on the Melbourne-Brisbane route – along with other routes between Victoria and Queensland – will be welcomed back from December 1.
This brings the Golden Triangle back to life for business travellers, as well as leisure flyers, and opens the doors to visiting friends and family along these routes as well.
Qantas, Virgin Australia ramp up flights
Within hours of the news breaking about Queensland’s borders, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all moved quickly to ramp up flights on ‘triangle’ routes.
Qantas, Jetstar boost Sydney-Brisbane flights
On the popular Sydney-Brisbane corridor, Qantas is boosting flights from 25 to 63 return services per week, with Jetstar climbing elevenfold, up from four to 44 weekly return flights between the same cities.
“This is news that many families have been waiting so long to hear,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
“Based on the demand we’re seeing already, Queenslanders can expect to welcome a lot more visitors in the next few months.”
Qantas will also schedule 28 return flights between Melbourne and Brisbane from December, and with Jetstar to offer 35 weekly return flights.
Both airlines are currently operating no flights at all between Brisbane and Melbourne.
“New South Wales and Victoria have done such a great job getting the virus under control that it makes complete sense to open the borders to Sydney and Melbourne,” Joyce said optimistically, ahead of a commitment by Queensland to open up to Victoria.
Virgin Australia dials up Sydney-Brisbane flying
With Queensland’s border currently closed to Greater Sydney, Virgin Australia is presently running just six return flights per week between Brisbane and the NSW capital.
From the day the border opens on December 1, that jumps to three return flights per day, being 21 weekly return flights.
By Christmas, that’s expected to climb further, with up to seven flights per day in each direction.
“The additional services will be timed to provide choice and convenience for customers, while at the same time give travellers the opportunity to do business and reconnect with loved ones,” said Virgin Australia’s GM Network and Revenue Management, Russell Shaw.
With regard to Melbourne, the airline currently offers 1-2 return flights from Brisbane most days, but doesn’t fly the route on Saturdays.
From December 1, that's boosted to two return flights per day, jumping to five return flights per day from December 14.
Airport lounges prepare to welcome back travellers
As domestic travel begins ramping up in time for Christmas, Qantas and Virgin Australia were already on-track to welcome travellers back to airport lounges on the triangle, and across Australia.
Qantas was the first airline to show its hand, reopening its Business Lounges in Sydney and Brisbane back in July, and using them to serve all lounge-eligible travellers – including Qantas Club and Chairman’s Lounge members, where those lounges were closed.
Come December 2, the day after Queensland’s border opening, the airline will also dust off its Qantas Club lounges in the same cities, and expects to reopen its Chairman’s Lounges in “early December” as well.
The Qantas Business Lounge at Melbourne Airport will also spring back to life from December 2, although the neighbouring Qantas Club is expected to remain closed at first, due to Victorian venue capacity restrictions.
Over at Virgin Australia, the airline unlocked the first of its airport lounges last week, following its exit from voluntary administration under the reigns of its new owner, Bain Capital.
Brisbane took first honours – being Virgin’s hub and home base – with lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as in Adelaide, Perth, on the Gold Coast, and possibly also Canberra flagged to return as border restrictions ease and travel volumes increase.
Sydney-Melbourne a billion-dollar route
Prior to COVID-19, the Sydney-Melbourne route was among the world’s busiest air corridors, and for the Qantas Group alone, delivered yearly revenues of more than a billion Australian dollars.
According to flight schedule analysis from OAG, every hour that Qantas had planes in the air between the two cities, its revenues would average over US$24,000 on that route alone – that’s around A$32,800, based on today’s exchange rates.
In 2018, the only route to deliver more in airline revenues globally was London Heathrow to New York JFK, on which Qantas partner British Airways captured the lion’s share of earnings.
With the recent and planned border openings, the Qantas Group – which includes both Qantas and Jetstar – will return to a flying schedule at around 60% of pre-COVID levels by Christmas.
Virgin Australia hasn’t released similar figures, but does confirm that flight searches between Sydney and several Queensland destinations are now back to similar levels compared with the same time in 2019.
As well, the number of last-minute flight bookings at Virgin Australia has also seen a “considerable increase”.
Queensland’s border to Adelaide and surrounds remains closed following the recent outbreak, but the Queensland Premier and the state’s Chief Health Officer have confirmed that QLD/SA border restrictions would be reviewed at the end of November.