The -300 variant of the 747 plyed the trans-con route up until late last decade and the -400 variant, which flew today from Sydney to Perth, has been scheduled on the route before during service disruptions.
Qantas' deployment of the 747 is efficient aircraft utilization mixed in with a notch short of a publicity stunt to capitalize on the 747's status in the public eye--and detract them from Virgin Australia's new Airbus A330 services.
It is ill-timed too: the Qantas 747 flight leaves Sydney at 10:10 a.m. and arrives in Perth at 1:05 p.m., a timetable business travelers will find hard to get any meaningful work done in either city; the flight is not scheduled at "key business timings", to use Qantas' phrase about its Melbourne-Perth A330 services. The 747's return is only a bit better with the aircraft leaving Perth at 2:35 p.m. and arriving in Sydney at 8:20 p.m.
The only threat the aircraft brings is Qantas' current one-up against Virgin Australia: lie-flat beds in business class. Virgin only has generously reclining seats in business, but from my experience passengers did not seem to mind.
Heck, we are only talking about a four hour flight, but Virgin's seats may very well change with it takes delivery next year of two factory-fresh A330 aircraft. (International Qantas aircraft, in my opinion, offer a better economy product than Virgin's A330s. But more on that later.) Qantas announced today it would upgrade one of its Brisbane-Perth flights from a 767 to an A330.
The most telling line in Qantas' press release reminding of the 747's resumption was a quote saying chief executive Alan Joyce "said the changes are about delivering business and leisure travellers what they want".
What passengers want has not changed in recent years. What has changed is Virgin, and Joyce's statement further shows how competition is good for passengers and is forcing Qantas to stop being complacent. Qantas even drew attention to its A330s having no middle seat in business class, unlike Virgin and unlike itself six months prior.
Next up, Qantas needs to consider its future domestic long-haul product and if it can still commit international aircraft to the domestic market once travel rebounds and the carrier completes its network review.
The only amusing part of the fanfare was not the Qantas-organized flashmob at Sydney airport or the commemorative cake-cutting ceremony, but the media contact on Qantas' 747 resumption press release: Amanda Bolger, who hitherto made her name heading up Virgin Blue's PR--before there was even day one--and then dismissed, along with almost the rest of the team, when the new management came onboard.
There she was fighting for the airline she once fought against.
Changes are a-comin'. How many passengers will switch carriers as well?