With Australians largely forbidden from traveling overseas, their focus is turning to their own backyards. That’s potentially good news for local airlines, hotels, and tourism operators. But a raft of ad-hoc interstate border closures is putting the brakes on travel within Australia.
These interstate border closures are dividing the community, both politically and practically. Some support them, and some loathe them. What’s undeniable is that they’re causing widespread disruption and economic pain. If you are looking to travel within Australia, you may find that easier said than done right now.
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What borders are open and what borders are closed
New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory remain closed to travelers from Victoria. Along the New South Wales / Victorian border, there is a kind of bubble allowing residents living on both sides of the border to go about their business. But if you are hoping to fly from Melbourne to Sydney this weekend, forget it. Even if you got a permit, you’d then have to pay for two weeks quarantine when you arrive.
Queensland remains closed to travelers from New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. However, Queensland will start allowing in travelers from the Australian Capital Territory on September 25.
South Australia is closed to travelers from New South Wales and Victoria. South Australia is expected to start allowing travelers from New South Wales to enter the state shortly.
The Northern Territory has closed its borders to travelers from Victoria and the greater Sydney area. The Northern Territory will start allowing travelers in from the greater Sydney area from October 9.
Western Australia and Tasmania remain closed to everyone except essential travelers and their own residents.
Border closure put the brakes on airline capacity growth
This hodgepodge of restrictions is playing havoc with the airlines and the industries that work alongside them.
Qantas is running just over 600 flights a week around Australia, less than 20% of what it usually operates. Virgin Australia is operating just over 200 flights a week and seems trapped in a post-sale paralysis.
Qantas is doing what it can within the limitations it is facing. The airline is focusing on intrastate travel and jumping on routes as border restrictions ease. They’ve just announced they will be flying Canberra – Gold Coast – Canberra following Queensland opening its borders to travelers from the Australian Capital Territory.
At the same time, Virgin Australia is shrinking and jumping off regional and intrastate routes. In recent weeks, Virgin Australia has abandoned intrastate flights to Tamworth, Bundaberg, Cloncurry, Port Macquarie, Mildura, and Albury. It’s an interesting move given that’s where the short term action is when flying in Australia right now.
Virgin Australia now has an all 737-800 fleet and these planes are too big for many regional and intrastate routes. But they also have an ongoing wet-lease agreement with Alliance Airlines who fly their smaller planes under Virgin Australia colors on some surviving regional and intrastate routes. But that partnership is not getting much use right now.
A focus on intrastate routes sees new top tier routes emerging
But even with Qantas powering ahead of its competitor, there remain big gaps in its domestic network. Qantas’ mainline is not flying between Melbourne and Adelaide. Tasmania’s capital city, Hobart, is off the mainline network altogether. The Gold Coast is also missing but, as noted, will make a come back shortly.
The current number one route in the Qantas network is Brisbane – Cairns – Brisbane. The shining jewel in both Qantas’ and Virgin Australia’s network is usually Sydney – Melbourne – Sydney. Typically, that’s the second or third busiest airline route in the world – depending on who and when you ask. But by way of example, on Thursday, September 24, there are just two flights in each direction.
One thing’s for sure. While interstate borders remain closed, Qantas and Virgin Australia will struggle to get traction and increase capacity. Qantas can weather the storm. Over at Virgin Australia, the airline risks getting left behind.