Qantas has again hinted Perth could permanently lose its exclusive status as a transit hub for flights between London and both Sydney and Melbourne.
It comes as the carrier confirmed it had reached an agreement with the Northern Territory to temporarily reroute its ‘kangaroo’ flights through Darwin Airport until “at least” April 2022.
However, in a pointed statement, the business said it would watch how the new route performs and would remain “open-minded about what it could lead to down the track”, suggesting Darwin could become a more permanent fixture.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said last month that if the route generates “good interest and good traffic” it could be in addition to the Perth layover.
The statements are significant because Qantas has previously criticised the state’s “conservative border policies” and is currently involved in a separate court dispute with Perth Airport over charges.
The Sydney-Darwin-London route will begin on 14 November while the Melbourne-Darwin-London route is scheduled to begin on 18 December 2021.
Qantas says flights to Melbourne could start even earlier depending on discussions with the Victorian government on shorter quarantine arrangements for returning travellers.
The passenger transit arrangements will be split into two stages to reflect COVID arrangements in the territory itself. In stage one, transiting passengers from all Australian states, or returning from London, will be able to visit the international lounge and shops at Darwin Airport.
Passengers travelling from London via Darwin to Sydney and Melbourne and wanting to travel onwards to other Australian cities will also be subject to state and territory quarantine requirements.
In stage two, transiting passengers will have the option to leave the terminal and visit Darwin, while Darwin-based customers can book a direct flight to the UK.
As it stands, the Flying Kangaroo confirmed it will operate three weekly return flights between Sydney and London, as well as three weekly return flights between Sydney and Los Angeles, both on its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners in November.
The airline said previously those are the two routes that have been the most searched on its website in recent weeks, and it will add more flights to meet increased demand, if needed.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said, “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.
“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.”
All passengers on Qantas’ international flights will be required to be fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved vaccine.
They will also be required to return a negative PCR COVID test at least 48 hours prior to departure and home quarantine for seven days on arrival into New South Wales.
Qantas bullishly predicted back in August that Australia’s international borders would open by December due to its strong vaccine rollout, and later confirmed that it would restart flights from 18 December, before moving it forward to 14 November.