Australian flag carrier Qantas has once again laid out its restart plans for international flights with hopes of resuming service to ‘COVID-safe’ destinations including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Japan by the end of the year. Qantas also says it hopes to get its Airbus A380 superjumbo back into action a year earlier than originally planned because demand is expected to be so great on certain routes.
The airline went public with its restart plans on Thursday based on vaccination targets set by the Australian federal government that would allow for the gradual reopening of international borders once 80 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated. That target could be reached by December based on current vaccination rates.
There remains substantial uncertainty over whether the Morrison government will actually ease travel restrictions once this target is reached and goal posts could be easily moved but Qantas says long lead time in preparing for an international restart necessitates the airline making “reasonable assumptions”.
Qantas previously reopened ticket sales for international flights from July 2021 but was quickly shot down by lawmakers who reminded the airline that it didn’t have any control over Australia’s border rules. The airline then delayed the restart of international services to October 2021 before settling on a point sometime around mid-2022.
The fact that the state of New South Wales is struggling to contain a COVID-19 and other states are facing clusters of the delta variant may, however, have tipped the balance in favour of loosening travel restrictions earlier than originally planned.
Although destinations like the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada have relatively high infection rates, Qantas remains hopeful they will be classed as ‘COVID-safe’ because of impressive vaccination rates. Singapore and Japan are also on Qantas’ ‘COVID-safe’ list.
If this holds true, Qantas will resume flights from mid-December to Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada using its smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A330 aircraft.
Five Airbus A380 superjumbos could then return to service ahead of schedule, initially flying between Sydney and Los Angeles from July 2022 and then Sydney to London via Singapore from November 2022.
Qantas is planning to keep 10 of its A380’s while two will now be retired.
There does, however, remain much uncertainty. Qantas hopes to restarts Trans-Tasman flights between Australia and New Zealand from mid-December based on an assumption that the travel bubble restarts. But New Zealand remains committed to its zero-COVID strategy so a travel bubble looks unlikely.
The same is true for plans to restart flights to Hong Kong.
And non-stop flights between Australia and London may not be able to depart from Perth because of Western Australia’s aggressive approach to COVID-29. Instead, Qantas hopes to switch its hub to Darwin but “discussions are ongoing”.
“The prospect of flying overseas might feel a long way off, especially with New South Wales and Victoria in lockdown, but the current pace of the vaccine rollout means we should have a lot more freedom in a few months’ time,” commented Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
“Some people might say we’re being too optimistic, but based on the pace of the vaccine rollout, this is within reach and we want to make sure we’re ready,” Joyce continued while acknowledging that it was up to the national government to decide when flight international can actually restart.
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.