Qantas: Right Routes, Right Network, Right Product
By James Ruggia
July 05, 2012 11:45 PM
Natural disasters, unpredictable fuel costs and fractured economies in important source markets in the U.S. and Europe have made these especially difficult times for Qantas, Australia’s flag carrier. A strong Australian dollar is filling seats with outbound Australians, even as the same strong dollar adds another inbound obstacle to go along with the distance and price of traveling to Australia.
Qantas, the world’s oldest existing airline, has had to fend off constant speculation in financial pages that it will begin selling assets.It has faced a tough fight with competitors like Virgin Australia and, increasingly, Qatar’s Etihad Airways, which now owns 10 percent of Virgin Australia.
Speaking in Perth in June at the Australian Tourism Exchange, Stephen Thompson, Qantas’ general manager, said he was particularly bullish on all of the new customers coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth-Sydney service.Dallas is a major hub for American Airlines, one of Qantas’ oneworld partners, a “connection that essentially gives us 60 new gateways,” as well as 67 million American Airlines frequent flyers, he says.
Qantas code shares to 59 American Airlines destinations across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. From the U.S., Qantas flies 45 flights per week to Australia including 34 nonstop flights from Los Angeles (to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane), seven from Dallas/Fort Worth to Sydney and Brisbane, a daily direct service from JFK to Sydney and three flights from Honolulu to Sydney.
On July 1, Qantas’ Dallas route went from six to seven flights per week. The route is served by a three-class Boeing 747-400ER -- the aircraft currently being reconfigured with Qantas’ next generation A380-style cabins.The service runs to Sydney via Brisbane, and returns direct from Sydney to Dallas/Fort Worth. “The U.S. routes are extremely profitable because of Australians going to the U.S.,” says John Simeone, Qantas’ head of international sales. “We’re up 7 percent on those routes.”
Almost every international route that Qantas operates is long haul. It’s about a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, making cabin service quality essential.“We just invested $400 million in 12 A380s and we’re refitting nine 747-400s,” says Thompson. Qantas will have a fleet of 12 A380s and nine newly-fitted B747 aircraft by the end of this year. Now the A380s are being used on specific U.S. routes including QF11 and QF12, Los Angeles-Sydney, and QF93 and QF94, Los Angeles-Melbourne.
Qantas’ A380s are configured with 450 seats -- 14 in First, 72 in Business, 32 in the new Premium Economy cabin and 332 in Economy.The First cabins feature a layout of private suites each featuring a 17-inch LCD wide screen video monitor, an array of personal stowage options, a touch-screen control unit, and a seat that swivels into an armchair and a fully flat, extra-long, extra-wide bed.The A380 Economy cabin has four self-service bars, enabling passengers to help themselves to refreshments throughout the flight on top of the normal meal services.
In order to maintain service consistency, the improvements designed for the A380s are also appearing on the international Boeing 747-400 fleet, including the Premium Economy cabin.Enhancements in the new 747-440s include better in-flight entertainment on larger personal screens with more than 1,500 selections. The Business cabins are enhanced by mood lighting and fully-flat Skybeds. Economy features a new seat with ergonomic cushioning and a self-service snack bar.
Qantas Business passengers have access to the deluxe Qantas Business lounges in Sydney and Melbourne and partner lounges in the U.S.They also get an enhanced Skybed sleeper seat, with ergonomically enhanced cushioning; up to 1,000 entertainment options presented on the 12-inch in-arm touch screen system; and cuisine options from five-course dinners to a la carte menus to Room Service breakfasts designed by superstar Australian chef Neil Perry. Newly-configured 747s are fitted with 364 seats: 58 Business, 36 Premium Economy and 270 Economy. Qantas now has six newly- fitted B747 aircraft operating on long-haul Pacific routes including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.
Premium Economy passengers are entitled to priority check-in, boarding and disembarkation.They also get premium food and wine selections and an entertainment system offering access to over 500 entertainment options via an in-arm digital touch screen. Qantas also is adding new First lounges in Singapore, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. “We’re also testing Internet and emails in the sky,” Thompson says.
Qantas operated Australia’s first commercial flights powered by sustainable aviation fuel in April.The flights, a Sydney-Adelaide return service operated by an Airbus A330, used biofuel derived from used cooking oil that was split 50:50 with conventional jet fuel. Produced by SkyNRG, the fuel has been fully certified for use in commercial aviation and endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund. Its ‘life cycle’ carbon footprint is around 60 percent smaller than that of conventional jet fuel.
Qantas also features an Aussie Air Pass priced depending on season, selected travel zone and the American departure city.Prices range from$1,499 to $1,699 from Los Angeles. The pass, which includes the fare from Los Angeles plus three domestic flights in Australia, is available for a seven-day minimum or 21-day maximum travel period.
For Qantas’ Thompson, while things may be difficult in the short term, his airline’s pursuit of the “right network, the right routes and the right product” will prevail over time.
James Ruggia is executive editor covering Pacific Asia and Europe for TravelPulse.com.