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When it comes to long-haul flights, the route between the UK and Australia is one of the longest. To fly from London Heathrow to Sydney will cover more than 10,000 miles and currently take more than 21 hours with at least one stop along the way.
There is a lot of choice for people wishing to fly between the UK and Australia, with many airlines in direct competition for your business. However, the cost of flying remains relatively high, due to fuel prices and the imbalance of supply and demand. This makes choosing the right airline more important than ever.
As a frequent traveller on this route, I have tried many airlines, different classes, and various routes, enabling me to make a personal comparison between many of the airlines. Working within the Travel Industry also enables me to suggest options and tips for the best airlines to choose, when to travel for the best fares and how to enjoy your journey.
Air travel between the UK and Australia became possible in the 1930s, although initially the journey was made up of more than 30 stops and took more than 12 days with overnight stays in hotels along the way. It was around this time that Qantas Airways created the term “Kangaroo Route” likening the multiple flight ‘hops’ to the movement of Australia’s most famous animal.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that new flight technology enabled flights to travel between England and Australia with just one or two stops, reducing the flight time to 24 hours. Flights to Perth in Australia were able to stop once in India, whilst flights to Sydney would usually stop in the Middle East and then South-East Asia.
In 2018 the first direct commercial flights were introduced between London and Perth, in Western Australia. This non-stop service between the UK and Australia spends just over 17 hours in the air. Whilst trials of direct flights between Sydney and London have been completed with empty planes, at the time of writing, it is unlikely that these will be in operation with passengers before 2025.
When choosing your flights between Australia and the UK it is important to understand some of the terminology used by airlines to describe their service and offers. Particularly for new travellers here is brief explanation of terms used by most airlines and travel agents.
Domestic Flights – Flights within a country that do not cross an international boundary. Be aware that these could still cover thousands of miles and be classed as long-haul.
International Flights – Flights that cross international boundaries. Travelling between countries by air can still be quite quick and classed as short-haul.
Short-Haul – Classifications vary between countries and airlines, but generally short-haul refers to flights less than 3 hours in duration or covering a distance of less than 1500 kilometres. These can be domestic or international flights.
Long-Haul – Generally a flight is considered to be long-haul if the duration is longer than 6 hours or the distance travelled is more than 3000 kilometres.
Medium-Haul – Although not a widely used term, any flights between 3 to 6 hours or travelling between 1500 and 3000 kilometres would have be classed as medium-haul.
Airline Alliances – To save on costs and enable airlines to promote different destinations, there are groups of airlines that have created partnerships. These collaborations enable airlines to share resources and allow passengers to travel with multiple airlines on just one ticket. Currently there are three major airline alliances in operation: Star Alliance, Sky Team, and One World. Between them they cover all the major destinations in the world.
Flight Codeshares – This is when a specific flight has multiple airline codes and numbers. Although a flight may be operated by one airline, through an Airline Alliance, it can also have a partner airline’s code and number. Essentially this enables partner airlines to sell seats on another airline’s planes.
Cabin Class – Every flight is divided into different types of seats. The most common are Economy, Premium Economy, and Business Class. Some airlines also offer a First Class, whilst some airlines have chosen to name their classes differently, but essentially, they are the same. Economy Class is the simplest service and cheapest price, Premium Economy is a step up, usually with wider seats and more leg room, whilst Business Class or First Class offers the best service and usually seats that recline to flat beds on long-haul routes.
Airline Hub – This is usually the home of an airline, where most flights will route through. Some airlines have multiple hubs, depending on what country they are based in. For example, it is no surprise that the hub for Singapore Airlines is Changi Airport in Singapore. However, the hubs for United Airlines are Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Australia Holidays by Freedom Destinations
|Number of Stops
|16 Hours 45 Minutes
The quickest and easiest, but not necessarily the cheapest, way to reach Australia is to fly non-stop from London Heathrow to Perth, in Western Australia. Currently the only carrier to operate this direct service is Australia’s National Airline, Qantas. Qantas began operating direct flights between the UK and Australia in 2018.
If you want to visit and spend time exploring Western Australia from the UK, then this direct flight is a great option. Whilst the flight duration time may put some people off, when you take into consideration transit times of going via another airport, then the direct option is a lot quicker. Qantas have spent a lot of money upgrading their cabin experiences, and if you can afford to upgrade your cabin class, then this really isn’t an uncomfortable option.
It is important to know that the direct flights currently only travel between London and Perth, although Qantas hope to be flying direct between London and Sydney before the end of 2025. Currently if you are travelling on to Sydney, it is still quicker to route via another airport as the transit times in Perth can be quite long.
|Number of Stops
This has been the most popular routing for travelling between the UK and Australia for the last 50 years and offers a good combination of speed (if you are just transiting) and an opportunity for a stopover to break up your journey if you prefer. Generally, airlines will route via their hub which in South-East Asia is usually their home country. You will need to change planes at the hub, but if you are transiting, your luggage will be checked through to your final destination.
These airlines will connect London and Manchester with various airports around Australia. When flying to the eastern coast of Australia, the best hub is Singapore. The flight time between London and Singapore is about 14 hours and Changi Airport is continually regarded as one of the best airports in the world, so having to spend some time here is not too much of a hardship.
If you are looking for a stopover, to break the journey for a few days, then Singapore is a good option, but you may want to consider Malaysian Airlines (Kuala Lumpur) and Thai Airways (Bangkok) as good alternatives. Whilst it is possible to fly to Australia via Japan, you should be aware that this involves a lot more flying time. It is nearly 14 hours from London to Tokyo, and then a further 9½ hours from Tokyo to Sydney. Unless you have particularly planned to spend time in Japan, this is neither the cheapest nor the quickest routing.
|Number of Stops
The rise of Middle Eastern airlines over the last couple of decades has been huge, to the extent that, with the exception of the USA market, they dominate the industry. This can be seen as a positive thing, as their investment in the flying experience has led to improvements in cabin quality and the customer experience throughout the aviation sector.
Emirates can be seen as the leader, connecting various UK airports with destinations throughout Australia via their hub in Dubai. The flight time between the UK and Dubai is just 7 hours, so that leaves a further 14 hours of flight time from Dubai to Sydney, for example. Emirates are also in an alliance with Qantas, which gives a number of different routing alternatives when planning your trip.
Etihad and Qatar Airways now rival Emirates for flights to Australia from the UK. The quality offered by all these airlines is the best there is, so it really comes down to the flight connection times or your preferred stopovers, when choosing amongst these airlines.
|Number of Stops
|Los Angeles or San Francisco
Considered ‘the long way round’, routing via America to get to Australia from the UK, or vice versa, is an alternative that is mostly only used in around the world itineraries, although some travellers do want to stopover in the USA or Canada along the way. The flight times are substantially longer than the traditional Kangaroo Route. The flight time between London Heathrow and Los Angeles is a little over 10 hours. Arriving in the USA you will also have to clear customs, even if you are just transiting, before waiting for your onwards connection. The flight time between Los Angeles and Sydney is a further 15 hours.
American Airlines, United and Delta all have hubs in Los Angeles and can fly there direct. When choosing an American based airline, it may be the other destinations you wish to visit that are more important. If you want to add a stopover in New York, Denver, or San Francisco, then certain airlines will offer better connections through to Los Angeles. No airline is better than the other on this route, so it will be best to discuss with your travel consultant, which airline is best for your chosen routing.
An alternative, that also uses Los Angeles as a hub is Air New Zealand. However, in flying from the UK to Australia, they will also stop in Auckland, adding another stop to the journey.
|Number of Stops
|Amsterdam & Singapore
|Frankfurt & Singapore
|Zurich & Singapore
|Paris & Singapore
|Istanbul & Bangkok
Choosing to add a European stop on the way from the UK to Australia is rare, but there are some reasons that are still valid for flying this route today. The most common reason is the ability to fly from a local airport away from London. Heathrow is not the most customer friendly airport to navigate when combining domestic short-haul flights with international long-haul flights, due to having to switch between terminals. So, when flying from regional airports in the UK, sometimes a European connection is simpler and quicker.
Currently none of the European airlines fly direct to Australia. In reality, each airline uses their alliance partners to travel part of the way. So, you may begin your flight with KLM, but the connection from Singapore to Australia will be operated by Qantas. The alliances enable airlines to advertise fares through to Australia, when in reality the leg between Asia and Australia will always be operated by a partner. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but travellers should be aware when booking, particularly if they prefer the service of a particular airline.
It has never been easier to fly to Australia. With more than 20 airlines across a variety of routes, there is a lot to choose from. Airline Alliances have also helped to open up destinations and stopovers previously difficult to incorporate into an Australia holiday.
However, pressures on fuel prices and other inflationary costs mean that flight prices to and from Australia remain relatively high. So, it more important than ever to choose the best time to travel, the best airline and routing that is right for you.
Travelling from the UK to Australia in the weeks before Christmas and flying from Australia in the weeks after New Year, remain in the high season due to increased demand. If budget is the deciding factor, then consider travelling away from this period.
If you wish to spend time in Western Australia and you want to maximize your time, then consider flying direct to Perth with Qantas. You need to prepare for a long time confined to your seat, so if budget allows then upgrading your cabin class will definitely make a difference.
If you are travelling between London and Sydney or Melbourne, then a routing via Singapore remains the simplest option, although a stopover with guaranteed sunshine in the Middle East is a similar option. Airline Alliances now make a combination of routing one way outbound, and a different route inbound possible on a return ticket. So, consider your preferred stopover destinations if you are breaking the journey.
Flying between the UK and Australia remains popular with strong ties between the two countries. The distances involved may remain the same, but the available flight choices have never been better. Speak with one of Freedom Destinations Australia experts to plan your next trip to Australia.
Richard has more than 25 years of experience working within the travel industry. He has travelled widely in the USA, Australia and Africa and enjoys exploring National Parks and other wilderness areas.