Qantas’ suggestion of $19 Sydney to Melbourne flights has been trumpeted everywhere. But as skint Sydneysiders boast they no longer need to go to New York to get their hipster fix (with Melbourne soon – apparently – to be just a $19 Jetstar flight away), one has to wonder: where’s the catch?
There are three reasons these $19 flights are too good to be true. Firstly: you can’t fly anywhere right now, with Qantas having extended domestic flight cancellations on Tuesday to continue up until the end of June. Secondly: these prices won’t last (and even while they’re on offer, they’ll be hard to get). Thirdly, if such prices did last, we would see a ‘race to the bottom’ in Australia’s domestic aviation scene.
If you’ve ever flown RyanAir, you’ll know why this is low-key terrifying.
Dealing with those points one at a time, let’s first deal with numero uno: you can’t fly anywhere right now. Yes, as we reported earlier this week, Qantas is ready to spring back into action at a week’s notice, and yes, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is optimistic domestic travel restrictions will lift soon. However, until the official announcement is actually made, no non-essential f*cker is going anywhere.
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To the second point (these prices won’t last, and will be harder to secure than a 2017 Coachella ticket), we must begin with a disclaimer. For those that are keen to visit friends and family once domestic travel restrictions are lifted, or those mad coffee frothers who want to get their ’boutique bean’ Instagram accounts back on track asap, for a limited time, $19 flights will be a welcome perk.
However, Joyce, in his open letter announcing the changes, initially flagged the flights as $39, with $19 being mentioned as a possibility (much like, we’d imagine, when RyanAir releases a couple of 2 euro flights when they have spare seats and want to generate a bit of free publicity). So don’t expect there to be a plane full of $19 seats. It’s more likely to be a quick-booking few.
As Traveller reported yesterday, “Any fire-sales are likely to be shortlived by the new era of COVID-19-impaired aviation because the costs of implementing and maintaining an extensive new regime of health and hygiene measures are certain to be astronomical and passed directly onto the consumer.”
Other experts have warned domestic Australian flight prices could now rise by 50%, thanks to this year’s shakeup.
Traveller flagged the situation in the US as a point of comparison: “Airlines in the US are already discovering that they can’t escape the realities of social distancing in the air. After a flight attendant complained on social media last week about having to work aboard a crowded plane with no spare seats left vacant to enforce social distancing, US carriers appear to have finally addressed the issue.”
“Not only have many blocked out middle seats but also those on either side of passengers. Inevitably, and in a sign of the COVID-19, vaccine-free air travel landscape set to emerge, one airline has even started charging for the reassurance of a empty seat next to you.”
Traveller also pointed out Alexandre de Juniac, director-general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) declared last month that if social distancing on flights remains imposed, “cheap travel is over.”
The upshot? Unless airlines can convince people to go back to the knee-to-knee days (and even then) $19 flights as a widespread policy will never be economical, particularly in the next few years.
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As for the third and final point: even if somehow, Qantas were able to streamline their Jetstar subsidiary to the point where obscenely cheap tickets were economically viable, Virgin Australia (or whatever rises from its ashes) will have to match it.
While broke-backpackers and end-of-season footy teams would be stoked, and while we all love a cheap ticket, what most Australians are after is not a bastardised version of RyanAir where you have to pay to use the bathroom, but an ever refined middle-market solution which provides affordable tickets and a pleasant, non-knee crunching experience.
That’s not to say Qantas can’t offer both, but that if there’s a race to the bottom, more resources will be devoted to economising their lower-tier jets rather than improving their mid-to-high-end ones.
Is that something you really want? If not: look at these $19 flights as they really are – a clever strategic move very few, very temporarily, will be able to make the most of.
In Qantas’ defence, as the Australian travel industry tries to recover from this crisis, cheap flights will aid massively in this process. So – again – while we shouldn’t see this as a long term change, we can see it as mutually beneficial (for both Australians, who need cheap fares and Qantas, who needs customers) in the short term.
Your budget booking awaits.