Other than repatriation operations, international flights with Australian flag carrier Qantas have been suspended throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Although it had been hoped that flights to the UK would be resumed from March 2021, that is now unlikely to happen before the end of next year.
As reported by ABC News, Qantas flights to the UK and the US are unlikely to start until October 2021. Flights had initially been suspended until March 2021, but a spokesperson has said that the airline has stopped selling tickets for some international routes, such as the UK and US, until the end of October next year. The services have been put back because of the uncertainty in those countries and ongoing government travel restrictions.
Addressing shareholders at Qantas’ virtual AGM on October 23, the airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, said,
“For some of our big destinations like the United States and the UK, it’s going to need a vaccine given the high prevalence of the virus in both of those locations. But we are getting more and more confident about the opportunities and the potential for a vaccine in helping getting those operations up by potentially by the end of 2021.”
In June, Mr. Joyce had said that he didn’t expect international flights, other than to New Zealand, to resume before July 2021. But even that forecast now seems to have been very optimistic.
The airline chases Asian markets
With flights to long-haul destinations like the UK and the US on hold, Qantas is looking to Asian markets. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, indicate in September that international passengers traveling from Japan, South Korea, and Pacific countries could potentially avoid having to quarantine in hotels on arrival.
Amid increasing speculation that Australia might form COVID-19 air bubbles with nations reporting low numbers of cases, Qantas and its subsidiary, Jetstar, are closely watching new markets that may open up as a result.
Qantas chairman criticizes domestic border closures
Although Qantas remains positive about the domestic markets, chairman, Richard Goyder, criticized the ongoing closures of domestic borders during the AGM,. He stated that, while the numbers in Victoria are being brought under control and New South Wales has shown how small coronavirus clusters can be managed, there is a frustrating lack of action for the Queensland and Western Australia borders. Mr. Goyder said,
“This inertia that doesn’t seem to be based on the actual health risk. And that seems to ignore the broader economic and social risk involved with staying shut — especially as Federal income support winds down.”
Qantas repatriation flights to the UK
Qantas has been operating special flights on behalf of the Australian Federal Government to repatriate citizens. In fact, the airline has two flights departing today from Sydney and Perth, with both due to arrive at London Heathrow at 05:05 on November 5. A further flight departs Darwin on November 8, arriving at Heathrow at 05;05 on November 9.
The flights offer economy, premium economy, and business class seats, although with greatly reduced in-flight services. They will offer limited onboard food and water, so passengers are being advised to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages. Inflight entertainment will also be unavailable.