Qantas is ready to resume overseas flights in mid-December 2021, with the Airbus A380s soaring back from July 2022, according to the airline's international roadmap based on the Government's own forecasts.
However, the airline notes its plans are dependent on Government decisions once the national vaccination rate passes the 80% milestone by December, which will push Australia into the National Cabinet’s ‘Phase C’ Covid recovery plan and trigger the gradual reopening of international borders.
"It's obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders re-open," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce cautions, but says "the current pace of the vaccine rollout means we should have a lot more freedom in a few months' time."
Joyce added that he has shared his plans with the government "and they agree with our broad assumptions, and agree that our plan is reasonable."
A crucial component will be the introduction of home isolation for people returning from low-risk countries – ideally for a reduced seven-day period – based on trials now underway in Adelaide, rather than the current requirement of 14 days in a hotel, for which travellers also have to pay $3,000.
"Levels of travel demand – and therefore, capacity levels – will hinge largely on government decisions on alternative requirements to mandatory hotel isolation for fully vaccinated travellers," the airline cautions.
Joyce said Qantas "is actively involved in the government's future quarantine plans."
Countries with similar vaccination levels to Australia of 70-80% by the end of the year – "which when we look at are the UK, the US... Singapore, and we think Japan will get there before the end of the year as well – those are the countries that should be on that list" for home isolation, Joyce suggested.
"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."
"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" in bringing back the necessary aircraft and people, along with rolling out its Travel Pass app "to help our customers prove their vaccine status and cross borders."
The return of Qantas' overseas flights
So when, and how, will Qantas' international flights come back – and where can you expect them to take you?
Here are the airline's current projections, based on the Government's commitment to reopening international borders and also taking likely travel demand to key destinations into account.
From mid-December 2021 flights would start from Australia to "Covid-safe destinations" which are likely to include Fiji, Singapore, the United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Canada. These routes will mainly rely on Qantas A330s and Boeing 787s, along with with the smaller Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s for Fiji.
Key markets like the UK, North America and parts of Asia "have high and increasing levels of vaccination", the airline says.
"This makes them highly likely to be classed as low risk countries for vaccinated travellers to visit and return from under reduced quarantine requirements, pending decisions by the Australian Government and entry policies of other countries."
Joyce said he expected high demand for flights to London in December and took a shot at Western Australia's continued hardline stance on closing its border to other states.
"I think it would be a terrible shame, if when we got to Christmas, from NSW you could visit your relatives in London, but can't visit your relatives in Perth," he suggested.
Flights between Australia and New Zealand will come back on sale for travel from mid-December 2021 "on the assumption some or all parts of the two-way bubble will restart."
However, it's likely that the Trans-Tasman Bubble 2.0 will be restricted to fully-vaccinated travellers and and require a Covid-19 test prior to departure.
Flights to Hong Kong will restart in February 2022, although Joyce confirmed to Executive Traveller that the airline's Hong Kong lounge will be permanently closed.
April 2022 is the soonest Qantas expects to fly to many destinations which "still have low vaccine rates and high levels of Covid infection" – including Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg.
The rest of the Qantas and Jetstar international network "is planned to open up from April 2022, with capacity increasing gradually."
Airbus A380s back from July 2022
The first Qantas A380s are slated to return to the Sydney-Los Angeles route in July 2022, with Sydney-Singapore-London to follow from November 2022.
"The A380s work well on these long-haul routes when there's sufficient demand, and the high vaccination rates in both markets would underpin this," the airline says.
LA and London will account for five red-tailed superjumbos, with five more are due to return to service by early 2024, although two will be retired "because they will be surplus to requirements."
Read more: Qantas A380s to return from July 2022
London via Darwin?
Qantas expects its ability to fly non-stop between Australia and London "to be in even higher demand post-Covid," with the potential to use Darwin "as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub, given conservative border policies in Western Australia."
Darwin has served as the main entry for Qantas repatriation flights, and in early 2020 was briefly tipped to take over from Singapore as a temporary stop-over for the Kangaroo Route.
"Discussions on this option are continuing," the airline says.