Many of the everyday freedoms that were suspended in mid-March have been slowly reintroduced in recent weeks and with more restrictions due to be lifted later this month, it’s somewhat easy to imagine that life is now slowly returning to normal. In truth, there’s still a long way to go before we have everything back that we once had. Perhaps the most notable prohibitions that continue to stand are interstate and international travel bans, however, while it’s unlikely that trips overseas will be an option before the end of the year, news from the airline industry signals a return to freer domestic movement within the month.
Qantas and Jetstar have announced that both airlines will be offering a greater variety and frequency of domestic flights from the end of June. Since mid-March, when interstate and international borders were sealed, both airlines have been operating at just five per cent capacity. However, in the coming weeks, this will be increased to 15 per cent, and while that may not sound like much of a difference, the result will be an additional 300 return flights a week to destinations around Australia.
As various social restrictions continue to be loosened, which will likely include interstate travel between NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia within weeks, both airlines expect to be able to increase capacity to 40 per cent by the end of July, although this will be subject to the continued success of Australia's suppression of the virus.
One of the routes that will see a significant increase in frequency is the connection between Sydney and Melbourne, which has been operating at a drastically reduced capacity throughout the crisis. By the end of the month, there should be 67 flights a week between the Victorian and New South Wales capitals. There will be smaller increases in other interstate routes, but for now, the greatest influx of air traffic will be regional. Qantas will be introducing a new direct flight between Sydney and Ballina, while services to Albury, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Port Macquarie, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga and other regional travel hubs will be increased.
Of course, the experience of flying will be quite different for the foreseeable future, with a number of additional health protocols in place to ensure the safety of passengers. These will include enhanced cleaning on aircrafts and in terminals, contactless check-in and bag drop, face masks handed out for flights, physical distancing enabled on board, reduced or suspended in-flight meal services and increased access to hand sanitiser.