Passenger flights between Sydney and Melbourne finally resumed on Monday when border restrictions between NSW and Victoria were lifted after 137 days.
On Monday alone, Qantas and Jetstar will operate 17 return flights carrying 4,500 passengers, while Virgin will operate four.
The first flights out of both airports departed simultaneously: a Qantas 737-838, VH-XZJ msn 39365, left Melbourne at 6:12am as flight QF404 and landed in Sydney at 7:20am; while another Qantas 737-838, VH-VXQ msn 33723, took off from Sydney at 6:14am as flight QF401 and touched down in Melbourne at 7:20am.
The business’ chief executive, Alan Joyce, called Monday a “big milestone” in the country’s plans to open up.
“It’s going to be a really emotional day for a lot of our passengers,” said Joyce. “We’re going to see the kind of reunions normally reserved for long haul international flights rather than two cities that are only an hour apart.
“It’s a great day for a lot of our people, who have been stood down for months. They have been so professional through all this and we’re thrilled to see more of them coming back to work.”
Pre-COVID, Melbourne-Sydney was the second busiest route in the world carrying 10 million people per year. Qantas and Jetstar alone operated up to 45 flights per day and often one every 15 minutes during peak periods. At the height of the shutdown, it dropped as low as one per day.
The business will also start a new route between Sydney and Mildura, originally due to start in March, and flights between the NSW capital and Bendigo will restart in December. Jetstar will resume regular flights between Melbourne and Newcastle and Ballina (Byron) this week, too.
Following this month’s announcement NSW would lift its border to Victoria, more than 25,000 seats were sold in the first 48 hours.
“We’re still a long way off having it back to full strength, but the sharp rebound in travel demand we’re seeing gives us a lot of confidence,” said Joyce. “As borders continue to open, we’re expecting a boom in domestic travel.”
Meanwhile, Virgin said it will operate 28 services per week between the two capitals, with a plan to progressively increase frequency to 20,000 seats per week by Christmas. It will also bring forward the re-introduction of four weekly services between Melbourne and Newcastle.
Melbourne Airport chief of aviation Shane O’Hare told 2GB on Monday that yesterday the facility was processing just 1,000 passengers per week.
“It’s more exciting than the [AFL] grand final … that’s absolutely fantastic, 32 of the more than 50 flights landing at Melbourne today will be from Sydney alone,” he said.
“The same way that people are a bit nervous about going back to work. [But] it’s absolutely essential that everybody – workers and passengers – wear a mask [inside the airport] and that will be enforced.”
When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the announcement earlier this month, she called it a “calculated risk”.
“I have confidence that everyone will continue to work hard to keep everyone safe,” Premier Berejiklian said.
Last week, Australian Aviation revealed how South Australia and the Northern Territory’s decision to lift their borders to NSW caused Sydney Airport’s domestic passenger traffic to double in October.
In a statement to the ASX, the business said it welcomed 187,000 people, double the 98,000 in September. However, traffic is still significantly lower than the 276,000 in July, during the brief window when Queensland kept its borders open to Sydney.
Internationally, the situation in Sydney remained much the same, with 38,000 passengers passing through the airport, consistent with the 34,000 in September.