Qantas says its return to international travel was on track for this year, with Aussies likely to fly to key overseas destinations in months.
Qantas expects to resume international travel by Christmas, with Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada among the first overseas destinations it will fly to.
The national airline said its overseas flights plan was linked to the reopening of international borders in line with Australia’s vaccine rollout, which was projected to reach 80 per cent in December.
Qantas made the announcement today as it reported a staggering $2.3 billion loss before tax as border closures and travel restrictions continued to wreak havoc on the aviation industry.
Under the plan outlined today, destinations with high vaccination rates and low Covid risk, such as the UK, North America and parts of Asia, would be Qantas’ first priority for international travel, with current projections for mid- December 2021 “in reach”.
However, flights to riskier destinations with low levels of vaccination, such as Bali, Phuket, Bangkok, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg, will be pushed out to at least April 2022.
“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,” Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce said.
“It’s obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders re-open, but with Australia on track to meet the 80 per cent trigger agreed by national cabinet by the end of the year, we need to plan ahead for what is a complex restart process.
“We can adjust our plans if the circumstances change, which we’ve already had to do several times during this pandemic. 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.”
However, Mr Joyce said one of the “biggest unknowns” was the Federal Government’s plan for quarantining vaccinated return travellers.
“If it’s 14 days in a hotel, demand levels will be very low,” he said.
“A shorter period with additional testing and the option to isolate at home will see a lot more people travel.
“Like many elements of this plan, it relies on decisions by the Australian Government.”
What will Qantas’ overseas return look like?
Qantas said its plan was dependent on Federal Government decisions in the coming months, including requirements for quarantine for returning travellers.
While the UK and countries in North America and Asia have been slated as first cabs off the rank, plans would also depend on entry policies of those countries.
If all goes ahead as expected, vaccinated travellers could be flying to Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada on Boeing 787s, Airbus A330s, and 737s, and Fiji on A320s in December.
Qantas said flights between Australia and New Zealand would go on sale for travel from mid-December, assuming the trans-Tasman travel bubble resumes by then.
Flights to Hong Kong would restart in February and the rest of the Qantas and Jetstar international network would gradually reopen from April 2022.
Qantas said five A380s would return to service ahead of schedule to fly between Sydney and LA from July 2022, and Sydney and London via Singapore from November 2022.
The airline would also extend the range of its A330-200 aircraft to operate some trans-Pacific routes, such as Brisbane-Los Angeles and Brisbane-San Francisco.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen, including training for our people and carefully bringing aircraft back into service,” Mr Joyce said.
“We’re also working to integrate the IATA travel pass into our systems to help our customers prove their vaccine status and cross borders.”
Mr Joyce said Qantas’ viral new ad — which brought Australians to tears this week with its heartfelt encouragement to get the Covid jab — was likely to have a positive impact drivingup vaccination rates.
“If the emotional response to our recent vaccine ad is any indication, the idea of planning a trip might encourage even more people to get the jab,” he said.
Qantas has also announced changes to its ’ Fly Flexible policy to assist customers whose travel plans have been disrupted, such as an unlimited “fee free” date change for international flights booked by February 28, 2022.
Credit vouchers have also been extended for bookings made on or before September 30, 2021 to enable travel until December 31, 2023. Jetstar customers with a voucher can use it to book lights until at least December 31, 2022, for flights up to the end of 2023.
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