Travel Australia: Why Aussies are being slugged with skyhigh fares

Australian travellers have been forking out far more to jetset overseas than they were four years ago, and despite calls for change there is little reprieve on the way.

Just two years ago, flyers looking to score return flights to Europe for the summer season could do so for as little as $1400 apiece.

Now, anyone would be lucky to lock in a seat for less than $3000.

According to Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner, those itching to ditch the country and fly overseas will have to continue to dig deep into their pockets to do so.

“If you want to travel at Christmas, you should be booking now or you have to pay quite a high bid for sure,” Mr Turner said.

“Families are just not travelling a lot now because you get fares that might be $4000 economy flights to Europe, and you’ve got a family of four, it’s a lot of money for anyone – particularly those on a low income.”

Europe remains the most expensive travel destination for Australian flyers, with tickets anywhere between to 40 to 90 per cent higher depending on the country.

Sun-starved office workers looking to escape to Greece stare down the heftiest price tag, with a staggering 90 per cent price hike compared with 2019 prices.

The situation isn’t any fairer for Sydneysiders returning to Hong Kong, with economy flyers facing a colossal $853 ticket for a one-way flight

“Tickets aren’t generally as bad for other, closer routes. Fiji has only been about 15 per cent more expensive, and Japan and Bali are anywhere between 20 to 30 per cent higher,” the Flight Centre founder said.

“But at the moment the capacity generally is the problem on the long haul routes to Europe, the UK and North America.”

For domestic travellers, average ticket prices are up a more modest 10 per cent over the same period, which is expected to shift as demand grows over the school holidays and leaving those giving up the most to fly to take the hardest hit.

“People on lower incomes are the ones really affected by these high airfares, particularly domestically, but even internationally when they might have a family of four try to fly to visit a friend, to visit relatives in India or Europe,” Mr Turner said.

Covid-19 and high inflation have put pressure on Australia’s travel sector; however, experts continue to pin down one major issue lingering behind surging airfares.

On the first day of a senate probe into aviation, which kicked off this week, a former Qantas economist revealed ticket prices could fall by up to 10 to 15 per cent if more airlines were granted permission to fly into the country.

This came amid growing anger over a government decision to block Middle-Eastern airline Qatar Airways from adding 28 additional flights into Australia in July.

According to Mr Turner, who has headed his travel agency empire since the 1980s, the effects of strict air service agreements have long burdened Australia’s flight industry.

“This has been a problem for a long time. America’s got open skies policies with a hundred countries. We’ve got it with nine, so ours is one of the most restricted airline markets in the world,” he said.

“We need more open skies and then the market decides. More airlines will fly to Australia and prices will go down.”

Relaxed air deals, otherwise known as “open skies”, are arrangements that don’t restrict the routes airlines can fly.

Australia has open skies deals with the US, the UK, China, India, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan.

The federal government has long been accused of keeping its air rules tightly wound to protect the interests of local air giants like Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Head of the Australian Travel Industry Association (ATIA) Dean Long, who appeared at the inquiry, slammed the “outdated” big brothering that he said hadn’t changed since 1944.

Mr Turner said the government has backed itself into a corner with Qatar Airways and had no other option than to change its route.

“I think the public is so concerned about the high airfare prices that I think they are starting to realise that they will have no option but to let other carriers in,” he said.

“We could end up with a greater variety and more flights in the medium to longer term, that may be a silver lining, but it won’t be if the government keeps knocking their applications back.”

A final report on the Senate’s investigation into Australia’s bilateral air service agreements will be handed down in October, with former Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and Qatar Airways expected to make appearances. Whether the government decides to act and lift off from its old ways to open up the skies will remain the true holiday surprise.

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