Virgin cancels all flights to China amid major route shake up in 2020

With temporary airline route changes now affecting a large number of travellers to parts of Southeast Asia, the year ahead will see yet more alterations to existing timetables that may impact your schedule further.

Depending on where you do business overseas, there may be some beneficial changes on the horizon as well. With new aircraft, new routes and new timetables being introduced with increasing regularity, you'll hopefully have alternate options if your existing plans are impacted.

Take me out to the ball game

The great news for Brisbane execs is the launch of two new Qantas routes that fly direct to the United States: the first from Brisbane to San Francisco; the second from Brisbane to Chicago.

The new route to San Fran - which started service on 10 February - will operate three times a week; every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, with a travel time of just under 13 hours. That's the perfect amount of time to pound a chicken schnitzel and Swiss cheese toastie and binge the last season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Hitting the Six Corners

In similar news, White Sox fans can rejoice with the news of a new Qantas route that will fly them direct to Chicago from Brisbane. Launched in April, the service will run four times per week and take just over 16 hours.

Both routes will be operated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner; a stretched variant of the 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft, which features 42 Business Class seats and 28 Premium Economy seats.

The two routes combined add more than 170,000 seats annually to the Flying Kangaroo's trans-Pacific market.

"These new services will link Australian corporate and leisure travellers with two lynchpin capitals of commerce and culture in the United States," said Qantas International CEO, Tino La Spina. "Customers will save around four hours travel time compared to the one-stop options currently on offer."

Rattle ya dags

In similar news, American Airlines announced in late 2019 the addition of two new direct routes to service New Zealand travellers: from Auckland to Dallas/Fort Worth; and Christchurch to Los Angeles. These routes will operate between October 2020 and March 2021.

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The two new routes will be serviced by the company's 787-8 Dreamliner and 787-9 Dreamliner fleets; offering 20 or 30 Business Class seats, respectively. This will also make American Airlines the only American carrier to fly to New Zealand's south island, which is something to ponder from a frequent flyer program perspective.

Cuts across the board

In local news, Virgin Australia has begun a number of cost-cutting measures that will see the company reduce domestic capacity by two per cent, including the elimination of some international routes.

Starting 11 February, the company will no longer fly direct from Melbourne to Hong Kong. From 29 April, Virgin Australia will also end the company's Sydney to Christchurch route.

These changes follow the recent removal of routes from Canberra to Perth (6 December 2019) and Perth to the Gold Coast (19 January 2020), which previously offered executive travellers a relatively cheap way to literally cross the country.

Hard decisions

To illustrate the maxim that bad news comes in threes, the carrier has also announced it will cease operations between Sydney and Hong Kong, citing the increasing difficulty of travel within the region as a result of ongoing civil unrest.

In a nutshell, Virgin Australia has pulled out of the Chinese market entirely, relying on partner airlines to complete the international leg of any flights to the region.

Virgin Australia flagged route cancellations and changes in late 2019, following the announcement by airline Chief Executive, Paul Scurruh, of a full-year $315 million loss. With the ongoing impact of the novel coronavirus epidemic, it appears drastic changes have been necessary.

Off the itinerary

"Hong Kong has continued to be a challenging market," said Virgin Australia Group Chief Commercial Officer, John MacLeod. "With a decline in demand following ongoing civil unrest, and growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in the wider region, we have made the decision to withdraw services.

"While the decision to withdraw from the Hong Kong market has been a difficult one, it demonstrates our strong focus on driving greater financial discipline through our network."

While it appears that some of these changes may offer a temporary headache, the options for travellers to the US will gradually expand over the next 12 months and offer greater flexibility, less flight time and more time where it counts: on the golf course… sorry, in the boardroom.

On any given day, you'll find Mark Gambino exploring the worlds of luxury travel, technology and alcohol; putting his spin on the experiences that define life's most memorable moments. He finds no greater pleasure than being behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle or sequestered in a basement bar to indulge a bibulous vice.

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