The Qantas Group has today provided additional detail on their preparations to restart international flights, with plans linked to the vaccine rollout in Australia and with key overseas markets. Based on current projections Australia is expected to reach ‘Phase C’ vaccination threshold of 80% in late November/early December 2021. It is expected that this will trigger the gradual reopening of international borders from mid December. Should those projections change or dates move, the restart plans will adjust accordingly, so we aren't expecting people to rush to book flights just yet but it is a strong indication that some degree of travel may be possible for the end of this year or early next year.
Qantas expects that their key markets, including the UK, North America and parts of Asia, that have high and increasing levels of vaccination, will make them highly likely to be classified as low risk countries for vaccinated travellers to visit and return from under reduced quarantine requirements, pending decisions by the Government and entry policies of other countries.
Flights between Australia and New Zealand will be released for booking with travel from mid-December 2021, on the assumption that the trans-Tasman travel bubble will resume. Qantas Group flights from Australia to 'COVID-safe destinations' will also be released which is likely to include Singapore, the USA, Japan, UK, Canada and Fiji. Interestingly Canada was mentioned, which was previously only a seasonal destination for Qantas for 6-8 weeks over the Christmas holidays and again briefly in the July/August peak season. We believe there will be strong demand for travel to Canada, especially for flights that bypass the USA, so we look forward to seeing if Qantas confirm a year round direct flight to Vancouver in competition with Air Canada.
Qantas will initially service long haul destinations with Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s, with 737 services (and presumably A320 aircraft for Jetstar) to Fiji. Qantas is expecting to bring back 5 A380s ahead of schedule from July 2022, for flights to Los Angeles and Sydney to London via Singapore. Qantas expects direct flights to London to be in high demand 'post-Covid' and is investigating flying via Darwin to London, in lieu of a stop in problematic Perth which may be plagued by conservative state border policies. The mere mention of high demand for these flights to London would lead us to believe that particular route will have quite high prices but that was already in place, to a certain extent, pre-Covid.
Flights to Hong Kong are expected to resume in February 2022 and the rest of the Qantas and Jetstar international network is planned to open from April 2022, with capacity increasingly gradually. Airlines typically work on 'Northern Winter' and 'Northern Summer' timetables when releasing flights so it is common for the end of March or beginning of April to see major changes to network operations.
Interestingly, Qantas plans to extend the range of their A330-200 aircraft to operate Brisbane-LA and Brisbane-San Francisco flights with some modifications to be made by Airbus. These A330s have a great flat bed product, similar to the 787 Dreamliners, so we look forward to seeing them operating on these routes.
Qantas outlined their restart assumptions as part of their full year result announcement, with Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce saying: “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...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.”
Mr Joyce also highlighted that "there’s a lot of work that needs to happen, including training for our people and carefully bringing aircraft back into service. We’re also working to integrate the IATA travel pass into our systems to help our customers prove their vaccine status and cross borders...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.”
As soon as competitive airfares are released in combination with timetables we will be in touch with our clients via email and social media so you can prepare for the restart of international travel ex-Australia, especially for those who are looking to reconnect with family and friends across the globe. That time hasn't quite come but we expect somewhere from late September to early November to start to see some booking activity resuming. Whilst we think December may be a touch optimistic, we think that there is a greater chance of departing somewhere between January and March 2022 with things picking up from there.