Qantas will fly non-stop from London Heathrow to Sydney from 2025.
For Qantas this represents one of the final frontiers of civil aviation: non-stop flights to anywhere in Australia from the world’s major cities.
It will also mark 90 years of radical evolution of civil aviation between the UK and Australia.
From one flight a week taking 12 and a half days to up to four daily non-stop flights Australia in 20 hours, here’s how flying from the UK to Australia has evolved from 1935 onwards.
The First Passenger Flights
Together with British Airways’ predecessor airlines Imperial Airways and BOAC, Qantas pioneered the first passenger flights between the UK and Australia from the 1930s.
On 8 December 1934, the first UK to Australia mail service began. This was operated by Imperial Airways (from Croydon to Karachi), Indian Trans-Continental (Karachi to Singapore) and Qantas Empire Airways, formed by Qantas and Imperial Airways (Singapore to Brisbane).
The next year, on 13 April 1935, the first passenger service operated from London to Brisbane by Imperial Airways and Qantas Empire Airways. It initially operated weekly and the trip took 12 and a half days. It would become known as the Kangaroo Route.
Services initially operated weekly, and were progressively increased to thrice weekly throughout the 1930s. The journey time was improved so that flights to Australia took “only” 10 days.
The Flying Boats
By 1939, Imperial Airways services to Australia were operated with flying boats.
Passengers would depart from the Imperial Airways Terminal in Victoria to catch a train to Southampton.
Imperial Airways’ had a fleet of 28 flying boats. Weighing 18 tonnes, these could accommodate up to 24 passengers and 5 crew. These were dubbed “veritable flying hotels” promising restaurant meals in spacious saloons with a promenade deck and separate smoking cabin.
Passengers would sit in “the most luxurious chair in the world” which could move from an upright to reclined position at the touch of a lever.
Qantas Comes To London
When commercial aviation resumed after the Second World War, it was the delivery of the Lockheed Constellation aircraft that allowed Qantas to fly direct to London.
The first service operated from Sydney to London in December 1947. The flight required 7 stops en route via Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, Castel Bento and Rome with a flight time of 58 hours over more than four days. The aircraft carried 29 passengers, 3 pilots, 1 navigator, 2 flight engineers and 3 cabin crew.
“Australia’s Round-the-World Airline”
In 1954, Qantas took delivery of the Super G Constellation aircraft operating the Southern Cross route across the Pacific Ocean from Sydney to Fiji, Honolulu, San Francisco and Vancouver.
On 17 January 1958, Qantas operated its first scheduled round-the-world flight from London to London after a goodwill flight for journalists.
The aircraft operated from London to New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Fiji, Sydney, Darwin, Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Bahrain, Athens and Rome.
The Jet Age
Over the course of the 1960s, Qantas entered the jet age, operating the Boeing 707 on routes from London.
This delivered radical improvements to journey times and increased the scope of Qantas’ global network.
The first Qantas Boeing 707 routes from London operated to Sydney via the Pacific. The first flight departed London on 31 July 1959, two days after its inaugural flight from Sydney to San Francisco.
Passengers could fly from London to Sydney via San Francisco in just over 30 hours, saving over 25 hours’ journey time. It would shortly fly the “Kangaroo Route” to Australia via Singapore.
“Fastest Jets To Australia”
Two years later in 1961 introduced a special version of the Boeing 707 known as the “V Jet”.
This had more powerful engines, delivering more journey time improvements from London to Sydney.
Qantas went on to add more routes to Australia with a third Boeing 707 route to Hong Kong operating twice weekly via Athens / Istanbul, Tehran and New Delhi in 1964.
A fourth route from London to Sydney via Bermuda, Nassau, Mexico City, Acapulco, Tahiti and Fiji in 1965, known as the “Fiesta” route, proved to be short-lived.
In 1967, BOAC introduced its own Boeing 707 Pacific route to Australia via New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, and Fiji.
The Jumbo Jet Era
In 1971, BOAC and Qantas introduced Boeing 747 services between the UK and Australia.
By the summer of 1976, BA was operating all flights to Australia with Boeing 747 aircraft.
British Airways began Concorde flights to Singapore, in conjunction with Singapore Airlines in 1977. Whilst it was hoped this would extend to Australia, it never came to fruition. Though BA did operate occasional Concorde charter flights to Australia.
Advances in the 747 resulted in continued improvements to journey times to Australia in the 1980s. It also meant that Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines could operate non-stop flights between London and Asia, offering competitive one-stop connections to Australia.
Non-Stop To Australia
The concept of non-stop flights from the UK to Australia has long been mooted by Qantas.
On 16 August 1989, Qantas’ first Boeing 747-400 aircraft, VH-OJA City Of Canberra, flew non-stop from London to Sydney.
News reports at the time mooted non-stop flights by 1999. It did take a little longer. When Qantas launched a daily non-stop Boeing 787 service to Perth in 2018, it has always maintained that the route had the highest passenger satisfaction on its network.
In 2025 a new era will begin. After withdrawing from many European cites and losing market share to rivals in Asia and the Middle East, Qantas is betting that passengers will take to its long trailed ultra long haul flights and it can reassert itself on the international stage.