The coronavirus is making airlines come up with unusual flights from Australia

Mar 25, 2020

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In another example of how the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing airlines to adapt in ways not seen before, Qantas will fly an extraordinary nonstop service from Australia to London aboard an Airbus A380. It’s only the second time that a scheduled flight will link Australia to Europe nonstop.

According to Airlineroute, the Australian airline is temporarily changing its flagship Sydney – Singapore – London Heathrow service to instead stop in Darwin, in northern Australia — both ways. The modified flight is scheduled to operate only until 26 March (27 March from London), before Qantas halts all international flying for the moment. Darwin to Heathrow covers 8,620 miles, a very long haul but still within the range of the A380. For example, Qantas routinely flies the giant jet on its Dallas-Fort Worth to Sydney route, which is just as long.

This is also going to be the second-longest scheduled A380 flight, just behind the Auckland, New Zealand, to Dubai service on Emirates which covers 8,824 miles. That flight was still operating on Tuesday, ahead of Emirates suspending most of its flights this week due to the coronavirus pandemic and a lot of A380s being grounded.

The other scheduled flight linking Australia to Europe without stopping is also on Qantas, which began flying from Perth to London Heathrow in 2018. That 9,000-mile flight is covered by a Boeing 787-9.

The reason Qantas had to ditch the Singapore stop and refuel in Darwin instead is that Singapore has closed its airport to flyers in transit. Passengers aboard flight QF1 to London and QF2 to Sydney will not leave the plane in Darwin as the A380 gets refuelled, according to Australian travel news site Executive Traveller.

The pandemic has produced another unusual effect when it comes to flights to Australia: the first-ever commercial flight there by Israeli flag carrier El Al.

The Jerusalem Post reported that flight LY88, carrying Israeli citizens evacuating from Australia, left Perth for Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The Israeli embassies in Australia and New Zealand, the paper said, had organized the evacuation of about 230 people who were on this flight, 80 of whom came from New Zealand. With 238 seats, the El Al 787-8 that operated the flight would have had enough room for everybody.

In a stark illustration of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting air traffic worldwide, there were only two El Al aircraft airborne anywhere in the world at 10:45 a.m. ET on Tuesday. One was Flight 88 from Perth, and the other Flight 324 from Paris to Tel Aviv, a Boeing 737, flight-tracking site Flightradar24 showed. Every one of the airline’s other 43 planes was on the ground.

Featured photo by Ryan Patterson / The Points Guy

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