Australian flag carrier Qantas is to operate eight special international return flights as part of a deal with the government to rescue 1,315 Australian citizens who remain stranded abroad. Strict inbound passenger caps imposed by the government as part of COVID-19 preventative measures mean thousands of Aussies have been stuck in foreign countries for months with confirmed bookings to fly home often cancelled at the last minute.
The flights, which are set to operate from New Dehli, London and Johannesburg, will fly vulnerable Australian citizens home throughout October and November. Economy class tickets for the one-way flights will cost between A$2,150 for the London service to A$1,500 from New Delhi. The flight cost is in addition to mandatory 14-day quarantine costs.
“As the national carrier, this is something we are proud to do,” commented Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce. The airline suspended regularly scheduled international services in April and doesn’t expect to start flying internationally again until at least July 2021. That timeline could easily be pushed back to the end of next year or even early 2022.
“Since the pandemic started, we’ve operated over 100 international flights to bring Australians home with the government’s support,” Joyce continued. Like before, the latest rescue flights will be underwritten by the Australian government.
The services from London and New Dehli will fly direct to Darwin where passengers will be immediately tested for COVID-19 and then placed into hotel quarantine. The arrival airport for the Johannesburg repatriation flights is yet to be confirmed.
Passengers will also have to undergo a COVID-19 test within 48-hours of departure and cabin crew will be wearing enhanced personal protective equipment. In-flight service on the ultra-long-haul flights will be stripped back and passengers will be banned from entering certain areas of the aircraft reserved specifically for crew.
“I’d like to thank not only the crew who are volunteering to operate on these services but the many people behind the scenes who make sure these flights happen, particularly to cities where we don’t typically operate to,” Joyce continued.
While airlines are allowed to fly commercial services to Australia, there are strict caps on how many passengers are allowed onboard in order to avoid overburdening government-run quarantine facilities. Some airlines, including Qatar Airways, have admitted to prioritising Business Class passengers and offloading customers who hold cheaper tickets.
In some cases, between 25 and 60 passengers are allowed onboard some flights resulting in a backlog of as many as 23,000 Australian’s wanting to get home but unable to get on a flight.
The new repatriation flights will be exempted from passenger caps.
Joyce told Australian television in September that Qantas was in talks with the Morrison administration to operate a series of special repatriation flights. He told ABC that the services were reliant on the government subsidising the flights.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.