Western Australia Opens Borders Enabling More Domestic Travel

Airline traffic on Australia’s busy transcontinental routes will rev up again after Western Australia re-opened its borders to the populous eastern states. The high yield, premium passenger heavy cross country flights have traditionally been cash cows for Australia’s domestic airlines, but flights have been few and far between for much of this year. Now, the planes to Perth are about to start pushing back again.

Flights to Western Australia will rev up again now internal borders have re-opened. Photo: Getty Images

Revenue rich routes to get back to business

Fiercely parochial Western Australia closed its internal borders in early April. Those borders only re-opened to residents of Victoria and New South Wales this week.

Before the travel downturn and border closures crippled the airlines, Australia’s two big airlines, Qantas and Virgin Australia did brisk business on their transcontinental routes to Perth. In 2019, Melbourne and Perth’s route was Australia’s seventh busiest, carrying 2.1 million passengers. Some 1.7 million passengers caught a plane between Sydney and Perth, making it the tenth busiest route in Australia last year. Nearly one million passengers flew between Brisbane and Perth in 2019, making it Australia’s 15th busiest airline route.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the busy short-haul routes in the eastern states. Over nine million people flew between Sydney and Melbourne, and nearly five million people flew between Sydney and Brisbane last year. But what sets the transcontinental routes apart is the high proportion of government and corporate traffic. That saw airlines charge over US$1800 for a one-way seat up the front of the plane.

Of course, for passengers (or their employers) prepared to pony up the cash or points for these seats, the five-hour cross-country flights could be a luxe experience. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia deployed widebodies A330s on these routes, and both airlines offered top-shelf business class products on these planes.

Virgin Australia will operate double dailies to Perth from Australia’s east coast cities by mid-December. Photo: Virgin Australia

Qantas and Virgin Australia step up Perth flights in December

Since March, these transcontinental flights have been pared right back. Lately, Qantas and its subsidiary Jetstar have operated just nine return services a week to Perth from Australia’s east coast. But with Western Australia now re-opening their borders, that’s stepping up.

By mid-December, Qantas and Jetstar plan to operate at least five return services a day to Perth from both Sydney and Melbourne. They are also open to adding more flights if demand requires it.

A search of Virgin Australia’s booking engine for flights in mid-December shows that airline operating two return services a day to Perth from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, respectively.

And the airlines clearly sense there’s a demand to travel. There are also some interesting variations in price. For example, on December 18, a one-way Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane to Perth starts at AU$719. Further down the terminal, on the same date, Qantas will get you on an evening flight west for around AU$391.

Source: Virgin Australia


Source: Qantas

Virgin Australia faces stiff competition from Qantas

Price difference notwithstanding, Virgin Australia will face some stiff headwinds on its flights across to Perth. The re-booted airline has stopped using widebody planes and is exclusively a 737-800 operator these days. In contrast, Qantas has many of its A330s still flying, and they are regulars on the Perth runs, although none are flying to Perth out of Brisbane on the sampled date.

The high fare-paying passengers are widely tipped to skip Virgin Australia’s smaller Boeings for the more spacious environs of the Qantas A330s. This is doubly so for premium class passengers. Why pay good money to sit in a recliner seat for five hours when you can have a lie-flat bed in a Qantas business suite?

While the re-opening of the Western Australia borders will be good for both Qantas and Virgin Australia. But with its bigger planes, better frequencies, and keen pricing, it looks like the Qantas Group might be dominating the lucrative routes west to Perth in 2021.