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Qantas plans its return to Singapore and London without A380s in 2021

Qantas is planning a return to Singapore from July 2021. What does it mean for cabin products, lounges, and is it even realistic?

It’s been some time, over nine months in fact, since a Qantas aircraft with passengers on board has departed from Singapore Changi Airport. That was on the evening of 25th March 2020, when QF52 took off for Brisbane, around 20 minutes after QF36 made its last Melbourne departure and around an hour after QF72 had set course for Perth.

The last Qantas Airbus A380 to depart from Changi was a couple of days earlier to Sydney, on 23rd March 2020.

Qantas Airbus A380s haven’t been seen at Changi Airport since March 2020. (Photo: Heathrow Airport Limited)

The airline hasn’t been totally vacant from the airport since then however, with regular Airbus A330 cargo-only services, joining other carriers including SIA in helping to keep Singapore well stocked with a variety of essential produce.

Passenger services have continued to be suspended of course, with Australia’s borders under tight restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flights are planned from July 2021

Qantas has loaded a range of services from July 2021, including Singapore flights, as it plans a return to its international long-haul network during the second half of the year.

These flights were originally scheduled to restart in March 2021, with the exception of the QF1/2 Singapore-London extension, which has been brought forward from October 2021.

The airline has provisionally rostered a return to all five of its regular routes from Changi, which are now available for booking, as shown below.

Brisbane

Flight From / To Aircraft Days
QF52 SIN2030 – BNE0600* 330 Daily
QF51 BNE1150 – SIN1800 330 Daily

* Next day

London

Flight From / To Aircraft Days
QF1 SIN2345 – LHR0635* 789 Daily
QF2 LHR2105 – SIN1725* 789 Daily

* Next day

Melbourne

Flight From / To Aircraft Days
QF36 SIN2015 – MEL0535* 789 Daily
QF35 MEL1215 – SIN1815 789 Daily

* Next day

Perth

Flight From / To Aircraft Days
QF72 SIN1150 – PER1720 330 Daily
QF71 PER1840 – SIN2350 330 Daily

Sydney

Flight From / To Aircraft Days
QF2 SIN1930 – SYD0510* 789 Daily
QF82 SIN2110 – SYD0655* 330 Daily
QF81 SYD1005 – SIN1650 330 Daily
QF1 SYD1555 – SIN2215 789 Daily

* Next day

As you can see there are some aircraft type swaps compared to the usual Qantas schedule, with the airline’s 12 Airbus A380s stored in either Victorville (10) or Los Angeles (2). Boeing 787-9s are mostly taking their place on the Singapore network.

All 12 Qantas Airbus A380s are stored in California, USA. (Photo: Felipe Sanchez / Shutterstock)

This includes the airline’s daily Sydney – Singapore – London ‘Kangaroo Route’, which like the Melbourne – Perth – London service will be operated by the Dreamliner.

Here’s how the capacity of Qantas aircraft looks for comparison between the aircraft types.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is QFtrans.png A332 A333 B789 A388
First 14
Business 27 / 28 28 42 70
Premium
Economy
28 60
Economy 224 / 243 269 166 341
Total 251 / 271 297 236 485

As you can see, introduction of the (physically) larger Boeing 787-9 rather than the Airbus A330 is actually a total capacity reduction (-20% vs. the A330-300), though that’s because the Dreamliner has a much larger Business Class section (+50%) in the Qantas fit, which if anything is good news for award space in this cabin.

While the schedule is loaded from 1st July 2021, the exact start date and flight frequency for each route is subject to change, mostly hinging on international border restrictions, not least those in Australia, which remain outside the airline’s control.

What it means for Business Class

With Qantas currently planning only Airbus A330s and Boeing 787s on flights from Singapore, it’s the popular Thompson Vantage XL seat to look forward to in Business Class.

Qantas Business Class. (Photo: Qantas)

These forward-facing seats are in a staggered 1-2-1 arrangement, with direct aisle access for all. Each seat reclines into a flat bed, with the footwell taking advantage of the space beneath the table of the seat in front, except at bulkhead rows where there is a wider recess.

An earlier version of this seat is installed on the airline’s Airbus A330s (both the -200 and -300 series), which you can tell apart by their lighter wood finish and fixed dividers between the middle seat pairs.

Business Class on the Qantas Airbus A330. (Photo: Qantas)

On the newer Boeing 787s, a more refined colour scheme with darker wood tones was chosen, and for couples travelling together the privacy divider is retractable for a more sociable experience, but otherwise the seat products are identical.

Boeing 787 Business Class seats have a retractable divider between the middle pair. (Image: Qantas)

As mentioned above, there are 50% more Business Class seats fitted to the Qantas Boeing 787-9 aircraft than to the Airbus A330s.

What else did the A380s have?

Qantas passengers will miss out on the airline’s new Airbus A380 cabins, which first started flying through Singapore in October 2019 and were part of a refit project that, in a non-COVID world, was scheduled to have been fully completed by now.

In Business Class this featured a very similar Thompson Vantage Business Class seat anyway.

The Business Class seats on new Qantas A380s were almost identical to the newest version on the Boeing 787s. (Photo: Qantas)

What is different is that the Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s don’t have the A380’s lounge area, ideal for a mid-flight change of scenery or meeting, or to dine with a partner, friend or colleague.

This area also included a self-serve bar, and was shared with First Class passengers.

Speaking of First Class, there’s no such option on the A330s or 787s, with this 14-seat cabin exclusive to the airline’s mothballed superjumbos.

Qantas A380 First Class got a refresh in the latest update. (Photo: Qantas)

Despite its age, the Qantas First Class product is quite innovative. We’ve flown it a couple of times (see our review) and while it doesn’t boast enclosed suites or double beds, it still holds up strongly against many competitors.

This cabin, which was previously available between Singapore and Melbourne, Sydney and London, won’t make an appearance until the A380s return to the Qantas fleet, slated for 2023 at the earliest.

Premium Economy

Qantas Boeing 787s are fitted with a 28-seat Premium Economy cabin in a 2-3-2 layout, but you won’t find this product offered on Airbus A330 flights, meaning it’s restricted to proposed London, Melbourne and Sydney flights from Singapore.

Qantas Boeing 787 Premium Economy. (Photo: Qantas)

Redemption rates

From what we can see so far, Qantas has loaded plenty of Economy and Premium Economy Class award space on these flights to and from Singapore in the second half of 2021, but we couldn’t see anything in Business Class so far (even using the airline’s own programme).

Here are the one-way redemption rates in Business Class, which will hopefully become available at a later date:


Business Class
(to/from SIN)
  Perth Sydney
Melbourne
Brisbane
London
QFF 57,000 68,400 94,900
BA 38,750 62,000 108,250
Asia 30,000 61,000 70,000
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is QRtrans.png 70,000 100,000 150,000

These compare to the following KrisFlyer saver award rates on Singapore Airlines:

  • 36,500 miles (PER)
  • 62,000 miles (SYD / MEL / BNE)
  • 92,000 miles (LHR)

As you can see, Asia Miles provides the best value in Business Class for Qantas redemptions.

Here’s how it looks in Premium Economy:


Premium Economy
(to/from SIN)
  Perth Sydney
Melbourne
London
QFF n/a 51,300 71,700
BA n/a 40,000 70,000
Asia n/a 43,000 45,000
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is QRtrans.png n/a 75,000 112,500

These compare to the following KrisFlyer saver award rates on Singapore Airlines:

  • 47,000 miles (SYD / MEL / BNE)
  • 64,500 miles (LHR)

We aren’t fans of Premium Economy (even the new glitzy Emirates version does nothing for us), but 45,000 Asia Miles flying on a oneworld carrier (i.e. Qantas or BA) from Singapore to London is actually a decent rate in this cabin!

In Economy Class you’ll pay the following rates:


Economy Class
(to/from SIN)
  Perth Sydney
Melbourne
Brisbane
London
QFF 20,300 25,200 37,600
BA 13,000 20,000 35,000
Asia 15,000 27,000 35,000
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is QRtrans.png 35,000 50,000 75,000

These compare to the following KrisFlyer saver award rates on Singapore Airlines:

  • 20,000 miles (PER)
  • 28,000 miles (SYD / MEL / BNE)
  • 38,000 miles (LHR)

Remember whichever cabin you redeem and whichever frequent flyer programme you use, Qantas will pass on its (sometimes substantial) fuel surcharge, unlike Singapore Airlines flights booked using KrisFlyer miles.

What it means for Qantas lounges at Changi

Qantas has two lounges at Singapore Changi Airport, the giant 570-capacity 2,200 sq m Business Class Lounge and the more intimate First Class Lounge, accommodating 240 guests.

We’ve got comprehensive reviews of both lounges shortly before they closed due to COVID-19.

A return for Qantas passenger flights in the second half of 2021 should be good news for a reopening of the Business Lounge, though given that facility’s significant capacity it will be difficult to justify reopening the First Lounge until sufficient passenger numbers have returned.

However, don’t be too concerned about the lack of a First Class cabin product through Changi impacting the lounge decision too much.

Even before COVID-19, the 240-capacity First Lounge served only a maximum of 42 Qantas First Class passengers each evening. Its primary role is actually to serve the airline’s Platinum and Platinum One members, and oneworld Emerald status holders.

Another option for Qantas might be to do a deal with fellow oneworld member British Airways, which also has its own lounge at Changi, to operate a single facility for eligible passengers travelling on both airlines, while passenger numbers remain low.

British Airways also operates its own lounge at Changi, currently closed despite the carrier still operating regular flights. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

It might sound far-fetched, but the two airlines have shared a lounge facility at Changi before (the current British Airways Singapore Lounge was once the combined BA / Qantas First Class Lounge).

Ultimately though Qantas may choose to direct its eligible passengers to a third-party lounge facility in the early stages of restarting passenger services at Changi, until a reasonable volume builds up.

Previously, the airline subcontracted the SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 1 to accommodate its customers while its new Business Class lounge was under construction.

Is July 2021 too soon?

1st July 2021 is a very specific date to suddenly reboot almost your entire long-haul flight schedule, and is earlier than many Australians expected.

To some extent this should therefore be regarded as the airline’s best estimate for when at least some of these flights might be able to restart.

“Recently we have aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021.

“We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation.”

Qantas

This stance from the airline, which some are even seeing as a calculated move, led to a rather terse statement from the Australian government.

“International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians.

“Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government.

“The Australian Government is working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections.

“Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines.”

Michael McCormack, Australia Deputy PM and Transport Minister

However, as View From The Wing’s Gary Leff points out, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is a well connected man and is likely forming an opinion based on at least some behind-the-scenes discussions relating to Australia’s plans for border opening.

As Gary also highlights, the Deputy Prime Minister stops short of saying Alan Joyce is wrong, only that he doesn’t get to decide when Australia opens its international borders.

A calculated move? Qantas has a vested interest in the pace at which the Australian government reopens international borders, and its CEO is well connected. (Photo: Qantas)

One thing’s for sure – predicting things like border openings six months in advance in the current climate is a speculative move for a government or an airline. At the end of the day, the unpredictability of COVID-19 itself could change everything between now and then.

Summary

Don’t read too much into the exact date for Qantas passenger services returning to Changi.

The airline has effectively loaded an entire international schedule to Europe, Asia and the USA from 1st July 2021, but the realistic prospect of “flipping a light switch” overnight, having operated to none of these destinations the previous day, is unrealistic.

Coming to Changi in 2021: More Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliners. (Photo: Qantas)

Nonetheless, loading schedules and selling tickets is a good sign that Qantas sees the return of international travel as a realistic prospect for the second half of 2021, when vaccines will have been widely rolled out in many countries it regularly serves.

It will be great to get back to Australia once borders do reopen, so this is one market we’re keeping our fingers crossed for this year. Given Singapore and Australia’s low case numbers, there’s every chance that many of these Qantas flight schedules from Changi could indeed be realistic from the middle of the year.

(Cover Photo: Qantas)

1 comment

  1. Personally, I don’t think Australia market will revive. However, I think this might be an opportunity for Qantas to ramp up especially connections via SIN to/ from Asia.

    I really think that there’s an opportunity for Qantas to sell First and Business lounge access, as should SQ but they won’t do that yet.

    Qantas had intended to focus on frequency for SIN routes, and was intending to pull out the A380 from London anyways. They probably will use the A380 for China, especially since now they have a no departures after 12am rule till 6am.

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