Instead of resuming ultra-long-haul nonstop service between London and Perth when Australia reopens to international travel next month, Qantas has announced plans to redirect its “Kangaroo Route” through Darwin, the Northern Territory’s capital city, at least until April 2022.
“The Kangaroo route is one of the most iconic on the Qantas international network and we are delighted that Darwin will play a vital role in Australia’s post pandemic reopening to the world,” said Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Group. “Qantas has been flying repatriation services from London to Darwin as part of the airline’s efforts to help being Australians home over the past 12 months, so our pilots already have extensive experience operating this particular route.”
Starting November 14, 2021, Qantas will operate a Sydney–Darwin–London route five times per week, followed by a Melbourne–Darwin–London route, tentatively scheduled to begin December 18, 2021, pending the Victorian government’s updates to quarantine plans regarding returning passengers. Those already based in Darwin will be able to book the nonstop 17 hour and 20 minute flight straight to London.
To help keep Australians safe from Covid-19, the new “Kangaroo Route” will be rolled out in two stages. First, the Darwin layover will be treated strictly as a refueling stop, where passengers traveling from Sydney, Melbourne, or London will be able to visit the shops and international lounge but not leave Darwin International Airport. If everything goes well Covid-wise, stage two will then allow incoming passengers to leave the airport and spend time in Darwin, providing a welcome boost for the Northern Territory’s economy.
“From Parap to Piccadilly, the opportunities are endless. The convenience of this route will mean tapping into brand new markets for tourism and business,” said Michael Gunner, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. “I thank Qantas and the Darwin International Airport for working with us to turn this direct route into reality, which will mark a real turning point for the nation as we work towards the next stages of the National Plan.”
Additionally, those entering Australia will need to follow Covid-related travel restrictions and quarantine regulations, which vary by state. Qantas passengers flying in either direction must also be fully vaccinated with a recognized vaccine—exceptions will be made for children and those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons—and show proof of negative results from a PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure. Masks must also be worn for the duration of the flight as well as inside all airports.
Upon landing in Sydney, vaccinated passengers will be required to quarantine at home for seven days, while unvaccinated travelers and those who have received vaccines not approved in Australia will still need to do the 14-day quarantine that’s currently required upon return.
It’s worth noting that as of this writing, only Australian citizens and permanent residents will be able to make use of these flights—the country’s borders have been closed to international travelers since March 2020, aside from a brief period where travel to and from New Zealand was permitted. Still, it’s a step in the right direction for Australians who have long been desperate to leave the continent and spend time with family abroad. Qantas is also expected to restart its Sydney–Los Angeles route in November, though, again, it’s only available for Australian use until further notice.
Australia’s plan is to reopen one-way to international travel on a state-by-state basis, or in other words, whenever the population of each state or territory reaches a full vaccination rate of 80 percent or more among its residents. New South Wales is currently in the lead, hence the announcement of the Sydney–Darwin–London route starting up in November.
Qantas is only expected to operate this version of the “Kangaroo Route” through Darwin until April 2022, when it will likely return to Perth—the rerouting shake-up is mainly due to Western Australia’s current border closures and Covid-19 travel restrictions, which are among the strictest in the country. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how the new segment performs and if it’ll lead to additional routing options in the future.