Regular Qantas passengers will know they occasionally go hard on the carry-on and start weighing everyone’s cabin luggage for a month or two, but they generally don’t weigh their passengers. But on one flight they do. If you plan to step aboard Qantas’ services to Lord Howe Island, you and your bags will need to step onto the scales.
Lord Howe Island a well-kept (and expensive) secret
Never heard of Lord Howe Island? It’s a 3,600-acre island 600 kilometers east of mainland Australia with a permanent population of 300 people. It’s pretty easy on the eye, so much so UNESCO has designated Lord Howe Island a world heritage site of global natural significance. People rave about it, but access issues and cost keep the crowds away. In short, it’s a well-kept secret.
The only airline that flies in is Qantas. It usually runs 36-seat Dash 8 Q200 services from both Sydney and Brisbane. Right now, Qantas is only running a slimmed-down timetable into Lord Howe from Sydney.
Despite the flight being a two-hour domestic service on a rather cosy plane, it’s a notoriously expensive sector. A sample search for flights to the island on October 25 shows the one-way entry-level fare to be US$453. If you’d prefer to pay using Qantas frequent flyer points, seats are available on the day from 95,500 points. Although, you can occasionally jag a seat for under 10,000 points.
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Why does Qantas weigh its passengers going to Lord Howe Island?
Cost and the weighing are two things that make this route stand out. The cost? Well, Qantas has a monopoly on the route, so there’s that. Why weigh passengers? That’s more interesting.
The airport runway (LDH) on Lord Howe Island is only 886 meters long. That restricts the type of aircraft that can fly in and out. There was a murmuring a few years ago Virgin Australia might start flying in using their now gone ATR-72s. But the ATRs were a bit too big and heavy for the small strip and would have to fly with around a dozen seats empty.
The other option is REX. They have a fleet of Saab 340s, but their fuel tanks aren’t big enough to safely make the return trip. Bad weather and high winds around Lord Howe mean you can spend some time orbiting and sometimes even have to return to Sydney.
That leaves Qantas and its smallest Dash 8s. Even with them, flying in and out of Lord Howe Island is a carefully calibrated exercise.
“If we have more than 27 passengers on any flight, everyone needs to be weighed before getting on board,” Lord Howe Island specialist pilot, Captain Ken Perry told RooTales.
“It does help our pilots to determine the correct amount of fuel needed as well as to ensure we have the capacity for freight.”
Qantas does brisk business flying freight to Lord Howe Island
As the only carrier regularly flying into the island, Qantas does brisk business carrying freight. Barges and ships do occasionally swing by, but port facilities are rudimentary at best. A lot of day to day essentials come by air. So for Qantas, it’s a matter of walking the line between maximizing passenger and freight payload and dealing with the short runway and the chances of having to return to Sydney.
“It is a practice that has its place on certain routes to certain destinations,” notes Qantas regarding asking passengers to step onto the scales.
While flights are still running to Lord Howe Island, they are for local residents, essential workers, and freight. The island is closed to visitors and tourists. But when it does re-open, it’s one of those places that should go on your bucket list.