Coronavirus: all flights between Australia and the USA grounded

Airlines abandon the once-crowded skies across the Pacific.

By David Flynn, March 21 2020
Coronavirus: all flights between Australia and the USA grounded

United Airlines has this morning advised that it will continue direct flights between Sydney and San Francisco, reversing an overnight decision to pull out of Australia.

PREVIOUS [March 21, 2020] Once a highly-competitive route where five airlines battled it out for business travellers and holiday-makers alike, the skies between Australia and the USA will be strikingly empty from next weekend.

The busy trans-Pacific corridor is the latest casualty of the coronavirus and the pandemic-inspired travel bans which have seen countries raise their borders  and employers enact travel bans which keep staff on the ground.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have all suspended the flights which until recently ferried thousands of passengers every day on seventeen non-stop routes: from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with the Texas hubs of Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

So buoyant was the market that Qantas was set to launch a non-stop flight from Brisbane to Chicago – the first direct link between Australia and the Windy City.

From hero to zero

Airlines tempted high flyers with premium lounges featuring à la carte menus and cocktail bars at either end of the journey.

In the air, the latest generation of business class seats – and in the case of Qantas, first class suites on its Airbus A380 superjumbo – made the 14-15 hour trek more bearable thanks to lie-flat beds.

Then seismic shockwave of Covid-19 hit. By the end of March airlines will have closed those lounges, parked those jets and stood down most of the crew and ground staff who have often become familiar faces to frequent flyers.

From April, Qantas will stand ready to mount repatriation flights to bring stranded Australians home and into a mandatory 14-day period of self-isolation.

The long haul

For those who still need to travel between Australia and the mainland USA, the few options which remain could be arduous ones.

Hawaiian Airlines and Air Canada, which offered flights to the US via Honolulu and Vancouver, have also cancelled services to Australia.

While New Zealand has banned foreigners from entering the country, Australian citizens, residents and their immediate family are permitted to transit, with AirNZ still offering flights to several US destinations – at least for the time being.

Cathay Pacific will retain three flights per week connecting Sydney to Los Angeles via Hong Kong, while Singapore Airlines offers non-stop flights from Singapore to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York on selected days. Other Asian airlines in the mix include ANA and Japan Airlines.

The Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways also continue to connect Australia to North America, although at upwards of 30 hours' in total travel time this is certainly the long way there.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 206

I don't think a Qantas will have a monopoly on repatriation, the government will look to use all Australian airlines effect I believe.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 125

I dont think it would be a money-making venture.


13 Aug 2016

Total posts 67

With New Zealand allowing Australians to make direct transit connections via AKL at this stage. I think any assisted trips will be just booked on NZ is they are people stuck in the USA.

It would be the most cost effective way at the momennt.


02 May 2016

Total posts 60

I recall reading somewhere UA are keeping the daily SYD/SFO flight operational at least through April but have cancelled all others......might be worth checking

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 365

UA announced this morning it was also cancelling SFO, see

08 Sep 2018

Total posts 23

Affirm UA are still ruining SYD-SFO

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 365

Only until March 28, see


02 May 2016

Total posts 60

I think there was some confusing messaging from United, they cancelled flights then retracted that and issued the below new announcement March 21 US time (March 22 AU time), and it shows SYD/SFO operating through May.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Yes, UA did a backflip – as noted atop the article now – SYD-SFO was originally to be retained, then a few days later it was axed along with most of the rest of United's international network, then overnight United decided to keep a handful of those routes and we were advised this morning (and updated both articles accordingly). Things are moving very fast these days...

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