As the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit Australia’s airlines hard, domestic flights have been few and far between. Flying on a regional service was eerie, with only seven other domestic flights leaving Melbourne airport on the 23rd June.
I needed to urgently get to Mildura; a country town of 30,000 that lies on the border of Australia’s two most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales. Driving takes in excess of six hours, so I opted to use 8000 of my Qantas points to fly instead.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, I flew domestically in Australia 2-3 times a month; however, state border closures have made domestic travel difficult.
Qantas actively encourages all passengers to check-in online, using the website or app. Inside the terminal, all self-service kiosks and bag drops are closed and passengers must go to a counter if carrying checked baggage.
When I fronted for my flight at 11:00, the check-in lanes were quiet and there were ample staff available to assist. Keeping in line with Qantas recommendations, I printed my boarding pass off prior to arrival.
Melbourne Airport security has remained largely the same – albeit with empty lines. Security staff do not wear masks and social distancing was not being enforced.
I never truly realised how large my local airport was until now! Free from passengers, each boarding gate sits empty and desolate. Seating was of course ample and hotly-contested seats were readily available.
Most restaurants were closed and I only observed one coffee shop open in the entire terminal. All the Qantas lounges were also closed, in line with social distancing requirements.
Grounded Qantas aircraft filled empty boarding gates and unused taxiways. It was fascinating to see two flagship B787-9 Dreamliners stationed on Taxiway Papa, right in front of the domestic terminal. Melbourne Airport is struggling to fit all the grounded aircraft without impacting on safety.
Qantas attempted to initially board by rows; however, this process was abandoned after most passengers disobeyed the instructions. Furthermore, the 1.5-meter markings on the floor were ignored and passengers were crammed together in the boarding lane as per usual.
Qantas supplied all passengers with a “Fly Well Pack,” which contained a surgical mask, two disinfectant wipes and hygiene instructions. I observed all passengers collecting these packs.
Passengers were being required to scan their own boarding pass under the supervision of Qantas staff.
Once on-board, all passengers were firmly encouraged to wear a mask and to clean their seat. The Dash-8 Q400 was full, as Qantas is only serving Mildura once a day. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mildura was serviced by 5-6 daily flights from QantasLink, Virgin Australia and Regional Express.
The cabin crew avoided any excessive interaction with the passengers; they also reminded every passenger to only move about when absolutely necessary. Most passengers chose not to speak at all throughout the flight.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, QantasLink offered a small snack and hot and cold beverages. Recently, the airline has shrunk their offering to include a bottle of water and a small cake.
The weather in Mildura was poor on arrival and the final approach was turbulent; however, the pilots executed a smooth landing. Once disembarked, passengers kept wearing masks until out of the airport.
Whilst domestic travel may be at an all-time low, passengers are slowly beginning to travel again. More domestic flights are resuming in Australia every day, giving me optimism over the future of air travel.
Qantas did their best to make the experience as comfortable as possible and the crew were professional and friendly.
What do you think about the service and travel experience? Let us know in the comments.