The start date for the end of the world as Qantas Cityflyers know it was announced over the weekend.

From 4 December Jetstar starts competing directly with its Qantas parent twice daily on the Sydney-Brisbane part of the ‘golden triangle’ that those cities make up with Melbourne.

$39 one-way will compete with anything from the $151 to $494 one-way fares available on the route on the Qantas Cityflyer schedule this afternoon or tomorrow.

Jetstar was always going to be turned directly against Qantas to drive ‘cost reforms’ through Qantas. The embattled Qantas unions have always said so, making last week’s overwhelming voting down of the latest QF pilot Enterprise Bargaining Agreement more symbolic than effective at changing the management agenda.

But there is more to this than most Cityflyer sky warriors might realise, especially those sitting in business class.

Too many of them aren’t paying anything like the published business class fares on the inter city routes where Qantas flies Cityflyer shuttles as frequently as every 15 minutes.

The deals that secured travel contracts from the big end of town are unsustainably cheap now that Ansett is gone.

Qantas can make more money out of fully flexible economy fares than from bulk contracts for business class, plus free Qantas Club memberships. And the real numbers prepared to pay around $1,000 for 75 minute return flights between capitals is too small, and concentrated on too few flights.

With under-performing business class cabins rattling around the network full of underpaying suits, and Virgin Blue poaching regular economy flyers who liked improved legroom and half empty lounges with free wi-fi, Qantas Cityflying as we know it is coming to an end.

Apart from that, travel is a major cost for most companies. With a promise from Tiger for rock bottom fares, and cheaper offers from Virgin Blue and Jetstar, travel managers who can deliver a big per trip saving have far more influence over where executives sit at company expense than ever before.

The end result is already apparent in many European carriers, where the low cost revolution has been strongest. Inter city flights are moving to single cabin formats while those on large travel accounts, or prepared to pay a surcharge, are getting more widely spaced rows up front or beside the over wing emergency exits.

These are the last days of the Royal Barge inter-state flight as we know it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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