Qantas has been forced to delay the restart of long-haul international flights yet again after the Australian government confirmed plans to keep the country’s borders closed to nearly all visitors until mid-2022 at the earliest. The Australian flag carrier had been hoping to restart a slew of long-haul routes at the end of October.
On Tuesday night, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg officially confirmed Australia’s revised timeline to relax border restrictions, saying it was “quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year.”
The Australian government had been hoping to relax some border restrictions once most of the population had been vaccinated but the vaccine rollout has got off to a sluggish start and health officials don’t now expect to achieve that target until the end of 2021.
Qantas says it will now delay the restart of long-haul international flights until late December 2021 at the earliest. “This planning assumption will allow the Qantas Group – and Australia – to be ready to take advantage of pockets of tourism and trade opportunity as they emerge in a post-COVID world,” a spokesperson for the airline said.
“We remain optimistic that additional bubbles will open once Australia’s vaccine rollout is complete to countries who, by then, are in a similar position, but it’s difficult to predict which ones at this stage,” a statement from the Sydney-based airline continued.
Qantas said it would review the situation closer to December and decide then whether to press ahead and restart international flights.
In February, the airline said it planned to resume flights to 22 of its 25 pre-pandemic international destinations at the end of October – a date it had chosen to coincide with the government’s original vaccine rollout target.
The Morrison government, however, is no longer linking the completion of the country’s vaccine rollout with an end date for border restrictions. Emerging virus variants that could reduce the effectiveness of existing vaccines have spooked health officials and booster shots might be necessary to fully protect Australians before restrictions can be eased.
Trans Tasman bubble flights are unaffected by Wednesday’s announcement and the airline said few passengers were affected by the latest delay because there have been so few bookings as a result of the continued uncertainty.
Photo Credit: TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock.com
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.