Qantas Confirms First Ever Nonstop Flight Between Australia And Europe

On Saturday I wrote about how Qantas was expected to announce their first ever nonstop flight between Australia and Europe, which they planned on operating with a 787-9. The route has been rumored for a long time, though I had a hard time believing they’d actually follow through on it.

Well, it looks like it’s really happening — Qantas has announced that they’ll begin nonstop Boeing 787-9 flights between Perth and London Heathrow starting in March 2018. Qantas hasn’t yet confirmed how often the flight will operate; my guess is that it will be 3-4x per week, at least initially.

qantas-livery-update

The 787-9 will be in a premium heavy configuration, with a total of 236 seats. This includes 42 business class seats, 28 premium economy seats, and 166 economy class seats. Qantas will have modified Vantage XL seats in business class on their 787s, all of which will feature direct aisle access and quite a bit of privacy. It’s similar to the seat they have on their A330s.

qantas-787-business-class-2

Per the press release, here’s the type of passenger Qantas is largely targeting with this flight:

“Our modelling shows that people from the East Coast as well as South Australia would fly domestically to Perth to connect to our non-stop London service. Some will take the opportunity to break their journey, whether it’s for business meetings in Perth, to holiday or to visit family.”

It’s interesting that Qantas emphasizes that the flight would be useful for people connecting within Australia, rather than emphasizing it as a big origin & destination market (with passengers traveling primarily between the two cities).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m both surprised and skeptical about this route:

  • I’m surprised because Qantas has been very conservative in their growth strategy, so I have faith they’ve done their homework on this before announcing the route
  • At the same time, ultra longhaul flights are very difficult to turn profits on, and I’m skeptical of them being able to command a big enough price premium to justify this route; I can’t imagine many economy passengers would pay extra to be in economy for 17+ hours, so I guess it comes down to whether there’s enough full fare business class demand to justify this route

The route will go on sale in April 2017, given that it’s only launching in March 2018. If oil prices go up in any substantial way over the coming months, I’d be very surprised if Qantas follows through on the route.

Interestingly, this new flight will operate out of the domestic terminal in Perth, as Qantas is moving all their international flights there to make connections easier:

The new flight will operate through Qantas’ existing domestic terminals (T3/4), which will be upgraded to accommodate international flights. The airline’s current international services from Perth (to Singapore and to Auckland) will also move to this terminal, helping to simplify the journey for thousands of people every year. Qantas will move its operations to an expanded Terminal 1 at Perth Airport by 2025, pending a commercial agreement.

Bottom line

As an aviation geek I’m thrilled to see the first ever nonstop route between two continents. Long and thin routes is what the 787 was designed for. At the same time, I’d be very surprised if Qantas manages to turn a profit on this route. They’ll need to command a big price premium to make it justifiable. While Perth is a big energy market, I just can’t imagine enough people will pay a big enough premium to take this flight. That’s especially true since the Gulf carriers all have one stop service from Perth to just about every major city in Europe.

You’d think this plane would be a much better fit for something like San Francisco to Sydney, a market in which Qantas has historically performed well, but which they haven’t had enough planes to operate consistently (they’re operating it right now due to their joint venture with American, but with that in jeopardy, the San Francisco route may be as well).

Only time will tell, I suppose…

Comments

  1. Flying from non-UK Europe, I’ll stick with my transfer in Asia, thank you very much. It breaks up the trip and means you get to the city you’re going to after your long flight. And saves 17 hours in economy on Qantas.

    Interesting though that they’ll operate this out of the domestic terminal, as the transfer process is one of the main reasons to take a direct flight out of Australia (say from Melbourne), instead of transferring in a different city. The current transfer process takes a ridiculous amount of time and often involves buses to new terminals, as well as going through security again.

  2. Based on my experiences in Australia – I imagine many aussies, particularly those of a certain generation, would rather avoid the unfamiliarity/cultural experience of asian airports and be back on home turf for their transit. Some people’s threshold for culture shock is unfortunately quite low.

  3. You forget that London to Australia is a huge market, with massive historical and current economic connections, as well as a large amount of family travel. Admittedly, Perth and WA generally is somewhat smaller but it’s still significant. Currently it’s served by a myriad of airlines but the “home” airlines (Qantas and BA) both involve stops in the Middle East or Singapore – neither ideal. Many people would strongly prefer the non-stop (certainly ex-UK, there’s no culture of taking flights which involve stops, except to Aus/NZ and people really do try to avoid them) and I can see people being willing to pay more for the non-stop, the question being how much.

    Where I agree with your post is on the operating costs – will the premium for non-stop be sufficient to defray the extra operating costs? At the front of the plane, probably yes, but time will tell at the back.

    As to SYD-SFO, it’s not such a large market and it’s already served by UA.

  4. Ben – love your page – but I think your skepticism about this route is a bit Misguided

    – aussies love Qantas and are very loyal to the airline (even whilst criticizing it)

    – Aussies LOVE non stop flights

    – Perth has a population or 2 million, and a LOT of U.K. Expats

    – Aussies are obsessed with London

    – Qantas is promising a revolutionary premium economy product on this plane which will draw more people to this route

    – this flight also works for passengers starting in cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide – offering a 1 stop connection to London on Qantas metal. Those cities comprise about 70% of the Australian population

    People seem to have no problem
    Flying on econcony 16 hours Sydney to Dallas – those flights are full on Qantas

  5. Quite agree about the links between the UK and Australia. With something like 200,000 Australians just in London don’t under-estimate how much of a big deal this will be. Also, taking a longer, historical perspective this is hugely eye-catching. Since the 1930s and the Kangaroo Route the UK-Australia route has been one of the great routes of aviation history. The idea that you can do it non-stop for the first time (albeit to Perth rather than Sydney) is a huge milestone.

    Agree also about the fact that there is “no culture of taking flights which involve stops”. As someone who has lived within the orbit of London all my life, you just get used to the idea that you can fly more or less to any country in the world, non-stop. Obviously there is usually a premium for that but many will pay that without thinking, and many will also not look far beyond BA – why else would an airline which is so average in many ways be so successful?

  6. At the moment aussies are only able to do a 1-stop trip the Europe if they have direct access to the airports served by EK and QF to DXB or if the use Southeast Asia carriers. By flying a direct flight PER-LHR, QF is able to transport all of Oceania to Europe with a single stop, which allows QF to reclaim the market share from Southeast Asian carriers (and NZ) and not having to rely on agreements with EK. By doing so, this route may actually be profitable.

  7. Lucky – there are multiple published press releases from QF and Western Australia government stating that there will be 14 flights weekly. Its a little ambiguous, but the assumption is that includes the return, rather than a double daily.

    But definitely not 3x-4x weekly.

    The governments upgrade of WA domestic terminal and financial support was contingent on a committed schedule from QF.

  8. I presume this will be a daily flight, given the reports in Australian media that the routing will be MEL – PER – LHR, replacing the current MEL – DXB – LHR. This would allow extra A380 services to USA or Hong Kong, and allow for the retirement of one or two 747s.

  9. Lucky, in this case your skepticism might be unjustified. I could see quite a future for this route. Keep in mind that for most people outside of Sydney and Melbourne, LHR is a 2-stop trip currently, so a fair number of people may be willing to pay a slight premium to eliminate a stop, especially those up front.

    Also, while Perth certainly isn’t a “world class” airport as a hub, it is admirably compact. The transfer process in the new Qantas terminal there will be vastly easier that at Dubai or likely even Singapore. If Qantas invests in decent premium lounge space there, then this could become a popular connection.

    I think it’s a bold, interesting move by QF to take back some traffic from the Gulf carriers.

  10. Mate, the service will be daily & likely to start in MEL as QF will pull their A380 off the MEL-DXB-LHR route & replace it withe the new 789 via PER. EK will replace this with their new service.
    QF plans to make PER the new hub for Europe & plan CDG & FRA flights also ex-PER, then they’ll transit passengers across the continent & the east coast SYD, BNE, MEL etc.

  11. As many had commented on your other post, me included, the transfer process dom to int at Perth using new swing gates within the same terminal as well as beginning your journey on a domestic trip (and therefor domestic check in requirement times) make the start of your journey far more stress free. Flying within Australia is so ridiculously easy and having that whole process to start a lengthy journey itself is appealing.

    As for the flight time, while long, it is really something Aussies have just gotten used to. 14+hrs to DXB, 13odd hours to LAX, JNB or SCL and 16hrs to DFW, 17hrs is not much more at all.

    Capital wise, it’s not like it’s a new route with costs involved in setting up a new destination. London is a large port for QF and they already command a large premium fare in all cabins compared to other airlines. Their cost base has decreased over the past few years while still maintaining a good yield advantage over their competitors.

    I have no doubt these flights will be full and desirable to many Australians.

  12. I agree that this has a good chance of succeeding, at least whilst oil prices are relatively low. I’ll still prefer to fly via Asia, I like to stop for a day in Hong Kong or Shanghai to break the trip. If this allows the a380s used on the route to replace the 747s Hong Kong then this works out great for me, although I guess they could end up going to SFO.

  13. I wouldn’t be surprised that if the take up was good they put their A380 on this route, seeing as it can manage about 15,000km+

    Also, it is a shame BA hadn’t thought of this ahead of Qantas, with their super slick 787-9s, which offers First Class as well as the Business, Premium Eco & Eco – perhaps they might offer it in partnership with Qantas and route their BA15/16 via Perth as opposed to Singapore – the historical/cultural/political links Australia has with the UK, I can see this route going from strength to strength.

  14. It is a brilliant move by Qantas! Aussies are experienced travellers, 16.5 hours Sydney Dallas flight is fine! Some of my U.K./ EU friends are also excited to experience this flight! Can’t wait for 2018!

  15. So many reasons it will work, specifically:
    – If as rumoured they dump the Mel / Dubai / LHR A380
    – As stated, other eastern states fly to Perth to join this instead of via elsewhere
    Not that many seats to fill, especially if the A380 is yanked off Mel / Dubai / LHR, and even if not I think it will resonate as many Australian’s do not like the ME3 or the stopover in the sandpit.

  16. I think most commenters have covered the salient points on the worst-kept secret in Australian aviation. It will be a daily service, PER will become a mini-hub allowing one stop LHR connections to underserved nearby ports (including NZ), it will allow a 380 to be redeployed elsewhere, and it will arguably be one of the more spacious ultra-long haul flights, no matter the cabin, due to weight restrictions. And those of us from the Antipodes are used to 14 hours being a minimum flight to anywhere “international”.

  17. I see via the BA tier point calculator that you get longhaul tier points on steroids for this route: 150 in PE, 240 in CW and a whopping 360 in First. I guess that means pricing accordingly. Not to mention redemptions! The Qatar flight from AKL to DOH is almost as long and I am pretty sure you only get long longhaul TPs for that…

  18. This has been a long time coming – I recall a Qantas CSD telling me at least 12 years ago when we used to fly LHR – PER there would soon a direct flight! Better late than never

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