As the end of lockdown inches closer and closer and — hopefully — the era of COVID comes to a close, Qantas is gearing up for a big return to the skies for international travellers.
December 18 is the date the airline has set for the reintroduction of flights as the government’s rolling ban on international travel is set to expire on the 17th — and may not be reintroduced again.
Qantas is planning to resume six international routes on December 18 and another five on the 19 with more to follow thereafter.
Plans are set to get tourists and travellers to the most popular destinations where Australians are likely to have friends and family they won’t have seen for several years.
The full list of routes for December are:
Sydney-London (December 18)
Melbourne-London (December 18)
Sydney-Los Angeles (December 18)
Sydney-Vancouver (December 18)
Sydney-Singapore (December 18)
Melbourne-Singapore (December 18)
Melbourne-Los Angeles (December 19)
Brisbane-Los Angeles (December 19)
Brisbane-Singapore (December 19)
Sydney-Tokyo (December 19)
Sydney-Fiji (December 19)
Sydney-Honolulu (December 20)
“We also should be starting to opening up internationally, and we open up to the markets that have the same level of vaccination with Australia at that stage,” said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
“That should be markets like the UK and North America. Canada is already up to those levels, Japan, Singapore, Fiji.
“We bounced it off the government and they have said publicly we think that’s a sensible plan. We think that could be achieved by Christmas if the states keep to the national plan,” he said.
Flights from Perth, Darwin, Hobart, and Adelaide have been ruled out for the time being as some states and territories have indicated that they won’t be opening international travel as soon as their jurisdictions reach the 80% vaccination target.
Joyce has criticised those who are taking a “more conservative view” on international travel in what he says is a diversion from the national plan.
“We might get into a situation where from Sydney you can visit your relatives in London, maybe Dublin, but you can’t visit your relatives in Perth, or maybe Cairns,” he has said.
While the federal government is keen to get more Australians back home once the vaccination rate hits those key numbers, airlines have criticised the plan as lacking clarity and say that they won’t be ready to fly if and when the borders open in December.
Singapore Airlines has already confirmed that it is cancelling dozens of flights to Australia in the months leading up to Christmas, saying that Australia’s cap on international arrivals is unworkable for the airline.
Passenger allowances are a major sticking point for international airlines, most of whom have either stopped flying to Australia or operating a skeleton staff for the limited numbers of arrivals allowed into the country during the lockdowns.
Barry Abrams, the executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, told The Guardian that airlines will need several months to recall laid off staff and retrieve planes that have been parked in deserts.
He criticised the government for keeping the aviation industry in the dark about what the new rules and passenger limits would be, leaving them stuck in limbo and unable to plan for reopening.
At the end of August, the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced that the state would further cut its intake of international arrivals by 50%, bringing the numbers down to just 750 people a week allowed to fly into NSW.
While we’re all keen to get overseas, not least the airlines who have been hit badly by the pandemic and loss of tourism dollars, the restarting of international travel still remains dependent on the federal government and questions remain over whether home quarantine arrangements can be made in time.
If the legal and public health obstacles can be overcome, Qantas and other airlines could still take years to bring their flight capacity up to full strength.
Qantas has said that they will mostly be flying a combination of Airbus A330s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners on the routes they plan to open first. Their largest aircraft, the Airbus A380 superjumbos, remain grounded in California’s Mojave desert.
The A380s are expected to be back into service earlier than expected, starting from July next year. Joyce previously said he did not expect the A380s to start flying again until 2023.