Sky high prices to fly out of Canberra will likely last ‘until the middle of next year’, industry says
If you want to fly somewhere over the summer from Canberra, chances are you will need to be prepared to pay top dollar.
Canberrans will be hard pressed to find a one-way flight to Brisbane for less than $350 in the week leading up to Christmas — though if you took a trip to Sydney, you could fly on the same day for $200 less.
A one-way flight to Melbourne this weekend would take at least a $400 bite out of your wallet — but there are flights with multiple stops going for almost $1,500.
So why is it so expensive to fly out of Canberra?
Higher demand, COVID restrictions bump up prices
According to industry experts, there are several reasons — and the uncertainty of travel is one of them.
“People are reluctant to make travel plans for Christmas or Easter because we just do not know what is going to happen,” travel agency owner Simon Lightbody said.
“Are flights going to be cancelled? Are borders going to be re-shut? There is a lot of uncertainty.”
Dr Naomi Dale, who leads Canberra’s peak tourism body the National Capital Attraction Association, said airlines were changing their ticketing conditions to accommodate for this — but that increased the cost.
“Quite a few of the airlines are offering no cancellation penalties or no change penalties up until the end of next year’s travel,” Dr Dale said.
“[But] the more flexible fares tend to be a little more expensive.”
Mr Lightbody said in addition to that factor, air fares were being pushed up by social distancing requirements on flights.
“Airlines can not operate profitably only selling what the capacity is that makes flying COVID-safe,” Mr Lightbody said.
But the reduced seating also means reduced supply, and even with fewer people travelling, demand is high.
“Although the capacity [at Canberra Airport] has increased, our traditional capacity is still quite low — probably about 100 flights a week,” Dr Dale said.
“The much higher demand is not being met by supply at this time so [companies] are able to charge whatever they see fit — so that lack of competition is a problem.
“At the moment [available seats] are probably at a third of what we would normally see.”
Some people are willing to pay a premium
Dr Dale believes some people are prepared to pay any price and airlines will take advantage of that.
“We can worry about pricing as much as possible but people have realised that no matter how much it costs they are so desperate to see friends and family that they are willing to pay the much higher price,” she said.
“The demand is there and people are willing to pay those higher fees at the moment.
“While they are prepared to do that, the industry will continue to charge that.”
That was certainly true for the first load of travellers from Hobart to arrive in Canberra yesterday.
A direct service between the two cities is now available for the first time since 2013, and those with family in the capital jumped on the opportunity.
It had been almost a year since Madeline last saw her mother Margaret — they reunited at the Canberra Airport yesterday.
“I have been so patient waiting for borders to open up that it is worth it,” Madeline said.
Diane also made the trip; she had not seen her daughter Alex since Christmas.
“(The prices) were really really high,” Diane said.
“But it was time to come and definitely worth it.”
Predictions prices won’t flatten for months
Mr Lightbody said it was likely that, until all the borders reopened, supply would not increase.
But he also noted, like the rush for toilet paper and hand sanitiser at the beginning of the pandemic, there had been a run on flights.
“While we are realising that things are open there is a huge rush for things,” Dr Dale added.
“It probably will not be until the middle of next year that we see a flattening in that price.”