Source: The Saturday Mercury, 12 August, 2000, p.18


Flights we don't fancy

 
WAYNE CRAWFORD 
 
LIKE banks, Australia's big 
two airlines get little sympathy 
when they cry poor, 
or lament that they're gravely 
misunderstood and misjudged. 
	For, like the banks, they have a
record of raking in big profits
(Qantas' net profit forecasts for
the year to June range between
$437 million and $479 million)
and treating customers - or at
least the "little" ones -
offhandedly and in rather cavalier
fashion.
	Take, for instance, the $66 air
fares between Sydney, Melbourne,
Canberra and regional centres like
Tamworth, Armidale and Port
Macquarie.
	Of course, it only became
possible when the new kid on the
tarmac, Impulse, started the
discount war by dropping its fares.
Suddenly, Ansett and Qantas
discovered they, also, could find a
whole lot of seats to sell at $66
instead of the usual $579.40
charged for a standard economy
fare between Melbourne and
Sydney.
	But there are no $66 seats on the
Hobart-Melbourne route. And
why? Simply because there's no
competition yet on the Tasmanian
routes. Impulse say they're
unlikely to come to Tasmania until
2002 and the other cut-price kid,
Richard Branson's Virgin Blue, are
also only at the "deliberations"
stage.
	Australian air fares have long
been a scandal. Recently my wife
and I decided it was time to start
seeing parts of Australia we'd not
visited, so we went to central
Australia. The cost for a two-week
excursion (largely thanks to the
monstrous air fares) came out at
three times what it would have
cost us for a two-week package
holiday in France.
	The air fares from Hobart to
Melbourne and other capitals are a
disgrace - the regular economy
to Melbourne is $578, to Sydney
$836 and Brisbane $1122.
	That's an outrage -- for $1122
you could just about fly to London
and back with accommodation
thrown in.
	And it's no use the airlines
wailing that we don't understand
and that most travellers actually
fly at discounted rates.
	As the state Liberals' small
business spokesman Bob Cheek
points out, most business-people
who need to go interstate for
meetings don't have the luxury of
being able to book a week or a
fortnight ahead, or being able to
stay away a Saturday night to meet
the concession fare conditions. So
they're held to ransom. The same
goes for people who need to go
interstate for family reasons at
short notice.
	Virgin Blue gave the game away
when a spokeswoman divulged
this week that "it costs between
$20 and $30 to cover the cost of a
seat between Sydney and
Brisbane". She didn't estimate
what the real cost of a seat
between Hobart and Melbourne
would be, but I bet it would be a
whole lot less than $578.
	Cheek says the airlines have
been whingeing that the
Tasmanian routes are marginal
cost-wise because of the small
population and that if they reduce
the fares they might also have to
reduce the service. But he says he
doesn't really believe it and that
the duopoly has had it too easy for
too long
	The service is already pretty
lousy - everyone complains
about not being able to get flights
into or out of Tasmania when they
want them, and having to wait
hours for connections. It took us
nearly 12 hours to get home from
Uluru - with a flying time of less
than half that.
	Stories are legion of
prospective visitors cancelling
their trip to Tasmania because
they wouldn't be able to get a
flight home. Cheek tells of some
Asian businessmen enroute to
Tasmania who arrived in Sydney
on their inbound overseas flight at
5am and couldn't get to Hobart
until late in the afternoon. They
had the same problem on the way
home which meant they
effectively wasted two days on the
trip.
	Goodness knows how long it
will be before we get competition
on the Tasmania routes. A couple
of times recently there have been
local investors looking at starting
a Tasmanian air service, but
seemingly without much success
because of the high start-up cost.
And presumably the State
Government and Tourism
Tasmania have been doing all they
can to entice the new airlines to
Tasmania, but it remains only a
proposal.
	Short of a State Government
start-up subsidy as suggested by
Cheek, I'm not sure what the
answer is.
	But at least I feel better for
having got it off my chest.

waynecrawford@msn.com.au


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