Qantas and the revamped Virgin Australia are employing very different strategies to tackle the next 12 months of air travel – but the good news is, consumers are likely to benefit.
While Qantas eyes international travel next year, Virgin Australia will be pushing hard to reinvent itself and snap up domestic passengers.
Virgin will operate as a smaller, domestic airline that no longer offers longer international flights.
And the makeover is already underway.
To celebrate the easing of border restrictions, Virgin has been dishing out some major promotions.
On Tuesday, the airline gave away 200 pairs of red thongs to passengers on board its first flight from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Summer is officially here and it’s time to work on that thong tan. We wanted to bring excitement to guests as they arrived into Queensland on our first flight from Melbourne since restrictions lifted #YouCantKeepAGoodThongDown #HavaianasAustralia pic.twitter.com/ef7uvOG8DQ
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) December 1, 2020
Last month, it offered free domestic flights to some of its first passengers arriving in Melbourne from Sydney.
“It’s great to see Virgin back in business and competing strongly with Qantas,” said Monash University aviation expert Greg Bamber.
“That’s good news for all Australian travellers. Having a strong competitor will help to keep fares down.”
Aviation consultant Tony Webber said Virgin’s tactics appeared to be targeting leisure travellers.
“If they move back to somewhere closer to Virgin Blue it’s definitely going to be a focal point for the Hawaiian shirt, thonged passengers,” Dr Webber said.
Virgin’s departure from long-haul flights leaves Qantas to capitalise on overseas travel, which the airline’s CEO Alan Joyce said won’t resume until at least mid-2021.
“We’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly,” Mr Joyce said on Thursday.
The UK has become the first to approve Pfizer’s vaccine, which will start being distributed from next week, while the US could approve two vaccines before Christmas.
But until a significant part of the world’s population is vaccinated, the number of people flying overseas won’t improve, Mr Joyce said.
So while we wait for that magical vaccine, we’re likely to see lots of Australians take advantage of Virgin, Qantas and Rex’s competing airfares – taking their free thongs on leisure holidays around the country.
Earlier this week, Qantas announced plans to outsource about 2000 positions, including ground crew, aircraft cleaners and baggage handlers.
It means that despite receiving government support, the airline has now slashed about 8500 jobs from a pre-COVID workforce of 29,000.
“I think customers, as well as the workers, will resent the huge staff cuts Qantas has made during the pandemic,” Professor Bamber said.
“Qantas’ permanent closure of its service and sales desks at all airports will leave passengers to deal with cancellations that necessitate last-minute booking changes themselves at self-service kiosks, online or through a call centre.”
Dr Tony Webber, who’s also a former chief economist of the Qantas Group, said the airline didn’t have much choice but to let go employees during the pandemic.
“They’ve been operating at 5 per cent of total activity and 5 per cent of revenue or something like that for nine months,” he told TND.
“No company in any industry would be in a situation where they keep on their staff under those circumstances.”
Money to be made from mandatory vaccine push
Mr Joyce’s ‘no jab, no fly’ policy is as much about health as it is about boosting consumer confidence, Dr Webber said.
“It’s mainly going to ease the anxiety of passengers,” he said.
“It is also going to give you more confidence to bring overseas passengers in for tourism around the country, getting them walking around and spending money.”
A recent poll of Qantas customers show most of them agree with the airline’s controversial vaccine policy.
In a recent survey, 87 per cent said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it was required to travel internationally.
A vast majority (85 per cent) agreed immunisation should also be required for travel to at least some countries.