Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce believes the coronavirus will be the airline’s major competitor over the coming years, instead of a refurbished Virgin Australia.
Speaking to the press at the unveiling of Qantas’ ‘Fly Well’ program, Joyce said the challenges of COVID-19 would outweigh those presented by whichever competitor emerges from Virgin’s administration process.
As it stands, Deloitte has narrowed down the purchase of the collapsed carrier to a four-horse race between Bain Capital, BGH Capital, Indigo Partners, and Cyrus Capital Partners.
“You look at the bidders and a variety of scenarios could come out,” Joyce said, adding that Virgin could emerge as “full service” or “low cost”, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Whatever happens, I think competition has always made Qantas a better airline and Qantas will adapt and will be able to compete with whatever is out there.
“Our focus is on COVID-19 being our major competitor and that will be there for a number of years.”
Joyce said Qantas’ ‘Fly Well’ measures would apply from 12 June.
However, the decision to make mask-wearing on flights optional has drawn concern and criticism from infectious disease experts, according to The Guardian.
The Fly Well program includes contactless check-in, extra hand sanitiser at airports and the rearrangement of Qantas lounges to increase physical distancing.
However, travellers on board aircraft are not required to social distance, with Qantas confirming it plans to fill its aircrafts to capacity by not removing middle seats.
“Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical,” Joyce said.
“The International Air Transport Association has come out and said if we take the middle seat out, airfares will probably go up by around 50 per cent … but even the middle seat only gives you 60 centimetres between passengers.”
According to The Guardian, Joyce said only 22 passengers could fit on an aeroplane if they were to observe the recommended 1.5 metres.
“That means airfares are going to be eight to nine times more than they are today,” he explained.
“And so, if it’s not needed and it isn’t needed by the medical advice, it definitely economically will not be justified.”
According to multiple reports, the Qantas Group CEO said it would be imperative to Australia’s tourism industry and economic recovery that domestic airfares were as low as possible.
This, he said, would encourage tourists to travel.
“We’ve done such a great job of managing COVID-19, now is the time to get parts of the economy working again,” Joyce said.
“I’m glad to see the premiers talking about July being a period when this could happen and we’re getting ready for that.”
Qantas’ decision not to enforce compulsory mask-wearing is not shared industry-wide.
Regional Express Airlines, which plans to challenge Qantas on domestic routes, has revealed it will mandate the use of face masks for all passengers from 1 June 2020.
In an effort to provide “an extra layer of protection against the spread of COVID-19”, Rex said any passenger without a face mask would be denied boarding unless there were “exceptional reasons”.
According to a press statement from the carrier, passengers would be required to wear masks at Rex check-in counters, boarding gates, during tarmac transfer both at boarding and disembarkation, and while on board aircraft.
For those passengers who did not have a mask of their own, Rex would supply $2 masks at its check-in counter, according to multiple reports.