Travelling Around Australia
Major Domestic Air Carriers
Australia is a large continent, approximately the same size as the continental United States, and travel throughout the country is generally via one of four major domestic air carriers – Qantas, Virgin Blue, Jetstar and Tiger Airways.
Qantas Airlines is the national flagship carrier, having been established over 90 years ago and has grown via acquisition and amalgamation of a number of smaller airlines. In addition to its well known international presence (the unmistakable red kangaroo on the tail of its long-haul 747 and A-380 fleet in airports across the world), Qantas is also the dominant domestic carrier with over 50 per cent of seat capacity of the industry and operating about 5600 domestic flights weekly. Qantas has been positioned as the premium full-service carrier in Australia for decades.
The airline flies predominantly Boeing 737 aircraft on domestic routes, configured with three rows of business class and typically about 25 rows of standard-pitch economy seating. On some routes, Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 aircraft provide additional capacity (with larger business class cabins), and on the Sydney to Perth route Qantas operates Boeing 747 aircraft for the five hour flight., Many of its shorter regional routes are serviced via QantasLink branded flights using a variety of Boeing 717 and Bombardier Q-400 and Dash-8 aircraft. QantasLink services over 50 regional destinations including Ayers Rock for access to Longitude 131, Hamilton Island for qualia Resort and Spa and Lord Howe Island for Capella Lodge.
For visitors to Australia booking Qantas international flights from the USA or Europe, the airline offers packaged domestic travel when pre-booked at the time of purchasing the international flights. These offers are marketed on the Qantas website of the respective originating country and typically add from AU$70 to $140 per domestic flight segment to the price of the round trip. They are located by searching for Walkabout Pass or Aussie AirPass. Generally, these offers are not available once a visitor has arrived in Australia.
Qantas service standards are very good by international expectations, with complimentary meals, drinks and video entertainment onboard in all classes, no charges for a defined weight of checked baggage, and an impeccable safety record. For more information, see www.qantas.com.
Virgin Australia is the ten year old domestic airways arm of Virgin Group Australia, a partially owned affiliate of Sir Richard Branson’s international Virgin group of companies. Initiated as a budget carrier at the time Qantas’ only significant domestic competitor went into receivership in 2001, Virgin Australia has evolved into the second major domestic air carrier. Today the airline exceeds 30 per cent domestic market share, operating a network of 78 Boeing 737, Airbus A-330, Embraer E-170 and E-190 and ATR-72 aircraft to 32 Australian airports.
Within the past two years, a new CEO at Virgin Group (formerly head of operations at Qantas) has signalled the intention to increase the range and appeal of premium guest services, competing more directly with Qantas for the corporate and high-yield tourism market. It is anticipated that this will mean a gradual introduction of separate cabins for premium seating, expanded lounge programs, and larger aircraft into the fleet.
Virgin Australia offers a packaged set of three or more destinations on their Australian domestic network to non-residents booking from outside Australia or New Zealand for $79 to $179 per flight. There is no requirement that the guests arrive in Australia on Virgin Australia’s partner international carrier V-Australia, implying flexibility in the unlinking of the domestic flights from the international. This offer is accessed via a special website www.virginblueairpass.com
Virgin Australia service standards are good by international expectations, with perky, attentive no-frills in-flight services, a good website for self-booking and arguably the best check-in counter staff in Australia. Seats are pre-assigned 24 hours before flight time, and food and beverage and in-flight entertainment is on a pay-per-use basis, except for premium economy where these are included in the fare. For more information see www.virginaustralia.com.au
Jetstar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qantas Group, and is the leading budget airline in Australia. The airline offers generally reliable point-to-point flights at prices usually lower by 10-30 per cent than available from Qantas or Virgin Australia.
The Jetstar network of 20 domestic airports is served by 27 Airbus A320 aircraft (all purchased new within the past five years) configured with 177 leather seats in a single-class with moderate pitch. Point-to-point service implies that Jetstar does not interline checked baggage with other carriers and does not offer connecting service between its own flights.
The airline’s safety record is spotless and its service record is generally good, with only moderate assistance levels provided to travellers in the event of delays or cancellations. Jetstar observes a strict 30-minute domestic check-in time limit and 25-minute at the gate boarding limit, which has been known to result in denied boarding and loss of fare for slightly late airport arrivals. In-flight services are all extra cost, with service attention friendly and cheerful. For more information see www.jetstar.com.au
Singaporean-owned Tiger Airways Australia operates a low-fare budget airline flying Airbus A320 aircraft in Australia. In July 2011, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority directed Tiger to cease operations on its domestic routes due to risks deemed unacceptable to the authority. The directive was lifted in August 2011, and Tiger began offering limited services between several major airports. For current services, see www.tigerairways.com. (Another Singaporean company carrying the Tiger name provides international services to Australia.)
Regional Air Carriers
Australia is home to a number of regional carriers, whose networks serve many of the more remotely located lodges of the members of Luxury Lodges of Australia. Generally these carriers are operating twin-engine fixed wing aircraft seating from nine to about 30 travelers on scheduled services from major capitol airports outward to more remote locations.
Regional Express (REX) Airlines serves the southeastern crescent of Australia from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne around to Adelaide and into smaller airports in between. For instance, REX is the primary carrier from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island accessing Southern Ocean Lodge with two daily return flights. For more information see www.rex.com.au
Skywest Airlines serves primarily Western Australia connecting an array of smaller airports into Perth. Their flights along the isolated northwestern coast of Australia centered on Broome connect with Perth and Darwin and also Exmouth for access to Sal Salis and Ningaloo Reef. For more information see www.skywest.com.au
Air North serves the Northern Territory from Darwin and the northwestern quadrant of Australia to Kununurra, Broome, both embarkation points for True North, and beyond. For more information see www.airnorth.com
East Air, based in Cairns, offer a limited set of scheduled services to Lizard Island. These are generally arranged by the property in conjunction with an accommodation booking.
Great Train Journeys
Getting around Australia may also include travel by rail, including several of the world’s great train journeys. Two of the most well known are the east-west cross country Indian Pacific and the north-south Ghan lines, offering private cabins with compact ensuite bathrooms and inventive Australian cuisine in a modern dining car. For more information see www.greatsouthernrail.com.
Other modes of Australian travel include self-drive, with international and domestic car rental agencies offering pick-up and drop-off points at all major airports and many capital city locations. A valid driver’s license, credit card and advance booking are the necessary prerequisites. All travel in Australia is on the left side of the road and rental cars will all have the driver on the right of the vehicle. Well known tourism routes in Australia include the Great Ocean Road along a 250km stretch of wild Southern Ocean terrain for a segment of the route between Melbourne and Adelaide, with a convenient intermediate stop at Lake House in Daylesford. The drive across the Nullarbor Plain between Adelaide and Perth is often promoted for adventurous drivers, as it includes the longest section of straight highway in the world; however, guest services along this isolated route are decidedly not luxury scale. Shorter drives, such as the route through the Blue Mountains between Sydney and Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, along the eastern Tasmanian coast from Hobart to Saffire Resort, or through the Adelaide Hills on the way to The Louise Barossa Valley and further north to The Flinders Ranges and Arkaba Station are all easily accessible tourist drives that are natural components of visiting these Luxury Lodges properties.