Qantas will suspend all of its international flights as coronavirus-related bans and 'do not travel' orders shut down the global travel market.
"With the Federal Government now recommending against all overseas travel from Australia, regularly scheduled international flights will continue until late March to assist with repatriation and will then be suspended until at least the end of May 2020," the airline said in a statement issued this morning.
Qantas' schedule shows flights to key destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, the USA and London being withdrawn across the week commencing Monday March 23, with travel on partner airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Emirates being suggested in several cases.
The airline will ground over 150 aircraft, including all of its Airbus A380, Boeing 787-9 and Boeing 747 jets, with the iconic jumbos – due for retirement by years' end – now expected not to return to the skies.
It's a dramatic response to an unprecedented challenge, with Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce earlier this week describing the Covid-19 pandemic in a staff-wide memo as "the single biggest shock that global aviation has ever experienced."
All bookings on cancelled flights will be automatically converted to a travel credit which can be used towards the purchase of any future Qantas or Jetstar flight.
Reshaping the domestic network
Qantas' domestic network will also see a 60% reduction in capacity, which "will come mostly from a significant reduction in flight frequency, but also route suspensions and postponing a number of new route launches."
As an indicator of the scope of these changes, and the coronavirus' stark impact on even domestic travel habits, flights on the Sydney-Melbourne corridor – previously ranked among the world's busiest air routes – will be reduced from 250 return services per week to under 90, while the number of transcontinental flights between the east and west coasts will be halved.
Scores of regional routes have been suspended, among them flights to Sydney from Ballina, Bendigo Broome, Hamilton Island, Mildura, Orange, the Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba.
For a full list of Qantas and Jetstar domestic route changes, visit qantasnewsroom.com.au/qantas-group-network-changes.
20,000 staff stood down
With Qantas temporarily becoming a domestic airline, the airline group will stand down the majority of its 30,000 employees until at least the end of May 2020.
"Employees will be able to draw down on annual and long service leave and additional support mechanisms will be introduced, including leave at half pay and early access to long service leave," the airline says.
Qantas chief Alan Joyce says the decision to stand down staff is made with the intention to bring them back when demand sees an inevitable uptick.
“The reality is we’ll have 150 aircraft on the ground and sadly there’s no work for most of our people. Rather than lose these highly skilled employees who we’ll need when this crisis passes, we are instead standing down two-thirds of our 30,000 employees until at least the end of May.”
Frequent flyer status extended
With most of Qantas' 13 million frequent flyers effectively grounded by coronavirus-related travel restrictions and the airline's drastically down-sized network, all Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum One card-holders will see their status automatically extended for 12 months, preserving their perks through to as late as 2022 even if they don't set foot on an airplane.
The gratis status offer also encompasses members who have received a complimentary Gold membership, or complimentary Platinum membership from a Platinum One member.
Project Sunrise: Airbus A350 purchase on hold
The coronavirus has also put Qantas' planned purchase of Airbus A350 jets on the back-burner util the end of 2020. Although this isn't expected to delay the launch of the ambitious non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said "we would rather wait for the coronavirus issue to be out of the way before we put a firm aircraft order in for the A350."