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COVID-19: Service changes on Domestic routes in Australia

COVID-19: Service changes on Domestic routes in Australia

Australian domestic airlines are haemorrhaging money at the moment, even with government support. They are cutting lounge and inflight service back to the bone on the grounds of being COVID safe, but is it also about saving money?

Put it this way, the cut back in service isn’t being reflected in cuts to price at the moment.

So what don’t you get currently on domestic flights?

And, the reverse, what do you get?

Qantas

Here’s what the website says about your service onboard:

  • NO to meals
  • NO to special meals
  • YES to a bottle of water
  • YES to a snack
  • YES to your own non-alcoholic beverages
  • NO to your own alcoholic beverages
  • NO wifi
  • NO to magazines
  • YES to your own reading material
  • YES to your own electronic entertainment

Qantas has introduced the ‘Flying Well‘ initiative that details how they clean the plane, new airport and boarding procedures, and booking and change flexibility to encourage us to book now rather than holding off until later.

What it doesn’t include is social or physical distancing on planes. In fact, CEO Alan Joyce even did a photo op of him sitting in the middle seat between other Qantas executives on a Sydney to Melbourne flight.

Joyce has actively argued against social distancing or leaving the middle seat free on flights.

Jetstar

I’m having difficulty finding anything relevant on the Jetstar website. Details about the in-flight ‘for purchase’ menu is still available, however, according to a review by Josh Dye on the Traveller website, no free or for-purchase offering is available on domestic flights, well at least his flight Sydney – Melbourne.

They are even still offering bundles that include the ‘In-Flight Meal Deal’ – so if you have been on Jetstar lately – tell me what’s what.

Found Something!

OOps! I found something. After googling ‘Jetstar COVID’, I found this page, which if you scroll to the bottom, you will find their ‘Flying Well’ logo, with a message about them having reduced their food and beverage offering. So, I think that means:

  • YES to byo beverage (non-alcoholic)
  • YES to byo food
  • NO to byo alcoholic beverage
  • MAYBE on entertainment if you pre-purchased since I can find no specific reference
  • YES to personal entertainment devices
  • NO on WiFi, but they didn’t have that pre-COVID-19 anyway

Virgin

The above, is the only information I could find. Well, Virgin Australia is in voluntary administration – which is short-short hand for ‘broke’. According to the review in Traveller I referred to above, only snacks and cups of water were handed out instead of the usual meal service, and no inflight entertainment.

Oh, I must be having a bad google day – I found some more information:

So I suppose that means that the list is similar to that for Jetstar:

  • YES to byo beverage (non-alcoholic)
  • YES to byo food
  • NO to byo alcoholic beverage
  • MAYBE on entertainment – although not all planes have seatback screens anyway.
  • YES to personal entertainment devices
  • MAYBE on WiFi

Lounges

These are still closed for all three airlines at the time of writing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this changes as soon as flight frequency and capacity increases. Maybe I am just being hopeful for my first domestic flight in the last (not that I’m counting) 4 months, scheduled for late July.

2PAXfly Takeout

While many of these changes can be seen as reducing contact points, I’m not convinced about things like the lack of WiFi where the airline has it, or the non-supply of alcoholic beverages. Smells like cost-cutting to me.

Social/physical distancing has not been implemented in seating, except after a report in mid-April of a super crowded Qantas flight between Townsville and Brisbane.

At that point, Qantas and Virgin implemented an empty middle seat where possible. Virgin did it through their booking system. Qantas has consistently argued that there have been no confirmed cases of transmission of the virus onboard aircraft. This carefully worded statement has been controversial, since the majority of new cases in Australia are arriving by air.

I could not find a written commitment from Virgin to keep the middle seat free in their COVID-19 related wellbeing advice.

Overseas

Airlines in the USA have taken a different stance, with Alaskan, Delta and Spirit Airlines effectively blocking the middle seat, with some trumpeting it as a sales advantage.

Economic necessity

Ensuring that the middle seat is free, or the seat next to each booking is, or providing proper social/physical distancing would reduce an aircraft’s capacity by more than a third, and that would be a huge whack to the airline’s bottom line. I understand why they are reluctant to implement this, as flying slowly returns to ‘normal’. Argue about the cost and finances, and I have some sympathy. If you tell me its safe not to social distance, you just made me question the entire advice of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer on the coronavirus over the last 6 months.

But please don’t try and sell it to me as safe. Economically necessary, maybe. Anyway, given the low number of people flying at the moment, I’m probably going to get a spare middle seat anyway.

On the other hand, no selling food on Jetstar will be a whack to the limited income the airline will be earning, so I presume this to be a legitimate health measure.

On the BYO alcoholic beverage ban – I am presuming this is a licensing thing rather than a health consideration.

Writing this has made me incredibly nostalgic for flying before 13 March of this year, when the Qantas flight attendant would slip me an extra mini-bottle of red or 3, and I would disdain some cardboard containered carb-filled pasta dish.

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