The History Of London To Sydney Air Fares

London to Sydney, or affectionately known as the Kangaroo Route, is one of the worlds longest and oldest routes linking two countries, the United Kingdom and Australia. How did it start? And how much has the price changed?

Qantas 707
What is the Kangaroo route, and what is its history? Photo: Getty Images

The start of the Kangaroo route

The first scheduled service between Australia and the United Kingdom took place on April 13th, 1935. It would take 12 days to fly the 12,753 miles of the route. The aircraft, a De Havilland 86, would leave Brisbane and fly to Charleville, Longreach, Avon Downs, Cloncurry, Newcastle Water, Daly Waters, Katherine, Darwin, Rambang (Indonesia), Singapore, Yangoon, Jodhpur, Karachi, Sharjah, Baghdad, Cario, Alexandria, Crete, Brindisi – then a train to Paris before reaching London.

All for the small price of $12,000 in current dollars. But for that price, you got there much faster than a ship, and the co-pilot handed out sandwiches for lunch.

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Qantas
De Havilland 86A owned by Qantas Empire Airways. Photo: Public Domain

Naturally, that flight is impractical, but it was the first and only way to get from one side of the planet to another in a reasonable amount of time.

Then in 1947, after the war (the Kangaroo Route shut down and airlines flew ‘sunset flights’ instead, flying around Indonesia in darkness to avoid Japanese patrols), airlines restarted with a new four-day plan flying the Lockheed Constellation. This new route would take 55 hours in the air and fly from Sydney to Darwin, then to Singapore (staying overnight), Kolkata, Karachi, Cario (hotel stay again), Tripoli and then land in London.

Qantas
Qantas Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation arriving at Heathrow from Australia. Photo: RuthAs via Wikimedia

This new improvement route cost more, around $27,442 for a round trip ticket.

From here, Qantas and BOAC would upgrade the route with more modern jet aircraft (like the Boeing 707) that would reduce the stops, speed up the travel time and lower the price. By 1969, Qantas operated eleven Kangaroo Route flights a week from London to Sydney, taking just over thirty hours with six stops.

Modern times

The kangaroo route took off when airlines had access to modern aircraft, like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380. This allowed the ticket price to fall dramatically, and the rise of midway hubs. While aircraft could technically fly the whole way (set by a Qantas 747 delivery flight), it was far more profitable to have passengers stop in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Qatar and more.

747 and A380
The Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 changed the landscape for the Kangaroo route. Photo: Getty Images

Sensing that there was room for improvement, Qantas upped the ante by launching the first in a series of direct non-stop routes – London to Perth. This flight reduced the travel time down to just 16 hours (with no stops) to reach Australia (although there was an additional flight to Sydney) and cut off the middle-east and South East Asia stopovers.

Qantas
The new Kangaroo route. Photo: Qantas

From here, Qantas has plans to launch a direct twenty-hour plus service from Sydney to London, as soon as they have the appropriate aircraft.

Prices would fall to around $900 for a return trip, which considering the earlier prices in its history is a significant improvement.

During the current crisis

Finishing off this timeline is the most recent price changes. As the current crisis hit a crescendo, the prices at first dramatically as many of the airlines had way too many seats and no travellers as holiday plans vanished.

Kangaroo Route
The current Google Flights alert for London to Sydney one way. Notice the sudden fall in far prices and then the sharp increase. Photo: Google Flights

Thus airlines scaled back their operations and cancelled flights – leaving only a few seats remaining and dramatically increasing fares. Even the route itself became warped, with the stopover changing from Dubai and Singapore to stranger destinations like Tokyo, Frankfurt and Cairo.

Until the current crisis is over, travelling between these two countries will seem more alike to the beginning than the modern experience we have known in the last two years.

Have you ever flown on the Kangaroo route? Let us know in the comments.

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