Meals and entertainment are included in the fares of a new player in the sky, writes Clive Dorman.
A young entrepreneur with big ambitions and jet fuel in his nostrils has launched an airline that he hopes will fill one of the few remaining niches in Australian air travel.
With the skies crowded by low-cost carriers, Strategic Airlines has become the second full-service airline in Australia, as well as Qantas, linking Australian cities with domestic and regional international holiday destinations.
The 34-year-old owner, Michael James, admits he’s cashing in on Australians’ dislike of ancillary charges – payments for extras that used to be free.
“The biggest feedback we get is that there are no hidden fees and, at the same time, people are surprised that they’re getting a meal and they’re getting in-flight entertainment,” James says.
A former airline worker who started as a check-in clerk at Ansett in Brisbane when he was 19, James is in the process of turning Strategic Airlines into a scheduled carrier to Phuket, Bali and other destinations. But there is much to do. For a start, James plans to rename the airline as an identifiable Australian brand this year.
Strategic Airlines used to be Strategic Aviation, a troop-carrying contractor to the Department of Defence. Another part of the business used to be Ozjet, a project by Paul Stoddart that was virtually stillborn as an all-business-class Australian carrier using old 737-200s. Yet another is a European charter operation.
The airline has six Airbus A320s – three in Australia and three in Europe – as well as one Airbus A330-300 wide-body jet that flies twice a week from Brisbane to Bali and twice a week from Brisbane and Melbourne to Phuket – cashing in on a market developed by V Australia before it withdrew to concentrate on the US. Sydney is not serviced.
As an “opportunist” airline, Strategic’s A320s also fly from Brisbane to Gladstone, Brisbane to Bali via Townsville and also via Port Hedland, Perth to Derby, and Perth to Bali. James says the airline plans to add two more A330s by early next year. “We see a lot more opportunities for that A330 range and configuration so that’s what we’re primarily focused on,” he says.
He admits it will take time for Australians to embrace his airline. “Particularly in this industry, people still have [memories of] the Compass days, the Ansett days, all of that,” he says. “Ansett’s more than 10 years ago but you talk to people and they’re still very cautious about any new entrant into the industry.”
Strategic is selling direct to customers through its website (flystrategic.com) but the airline also has fares available through travel agents, so passengers are protected by the consumer safety net. Sales through agents are protected if the agent is a member of the travel industry’s Travel Compensation Fund, of which most agents are members.
Strategic has all-inclusive one-way fares to Phuket for $429 from Melbourne and Brisbane and $389 one-way fares from Brisbane to Denpasar.
The fares include a 23-kilogram luggage allowance, plus an extra 10-kilogram allowance for sports equipment such as golf clubs or surfboard, as well as a meal and seat-back video entertainment.
More from Clive Dorman at the Travellers’ Check blog.