The closure of state borders between New South Wales and Victoria from 11.59pm Tuesday July 7 is expected to spark a wave of cancellations for Qantas and Virgin Australia, both of which have just begin to ramp up their domestic flying as travel restrictions began to ease.
The unexpected shut-down of interstate travel follows a second Covid-19 surge in Melbourne, which resulted in the state recording its highest-ever increase in daily cases, with none of those new cases being overseas travellers.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it was a joint decision made during a teleconference hook-up with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this morning.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard suggested that even "if you're thinking of going to Victoria in next 24-48 hours, our strong suggestion is don’t – do not go."
Andrews said there will be a 'permit system' for necessary travel between the two states, including "people who live in border communities" such as Albury-Wodonga " to be able to travel to and from for the purposes of work, the purposes of the essential health services they might need."
NSW Premier Berejiklian said "there will always be exemptions due to hardship cases (and) anybody who feels they want to apply for a permit through Service NSW can do so," saying the process would be "very easy."
She added that while "we do anticipate there'll still be flights" between Sydney and Melbourne, "but only for those who’ve got permits and only for those who are returning NSW residents," adding that returning residents "will have to self-isolate."
Service NSW aims to be in a position to accept applications for border passes from Tuesday July 7, although the agency is not yet able to detail the application process, eligibility criteria or how long it would typically take for an application to be granted.
In normal times, Sydney-Melbourne is the world's second-busiest air corridor. The shock decision underscores the volatility of the travel market and the unpredictable nature of its recovery.
Qantas and Virgin Australia began reinstating more flights last month, anticipating a high level of pent-up demand as the winter school holidays approached.
Qantas' aim was to reach 40% of the pre-crisis domestic capacity for Qantas and Jetstar by the end of July, up from 5% across April and May, although the airline warned on June 4 that that this would depend on "further relaxation of state borders".
Qantas will slash the number of flights between Sydney and Melbourne across the rest of July, while a Virgin Australia spokesman said the airline is "reviewing our flight schedule for services between Sydney and Melbourne".
Qantas flight changes and refunds
Qantas passengers wishing to change their flight – whether one between New South Wales and Victoria, or elsewhere across the domestic network – are permitted one complimentary change to the date of their travel.
This applies to flight bookings made between May 21 and July 27 2020, for travel between June 12 and October 31 2020. This free change must be made before the scheduled departure date of the flight that had originally been booked, although a fare difference may apply.
Alternatively, if Qantas cancels the flight, passengers have the option of an alternative flight, a credit voucher to spend on future travel, or a full refund. In this instance, Qantas is also not charging a change fee or cancellation fee.
Qantas flights booked using Qantas Points are instead fully flexible until October 31 2020, with all Classic Flight Reward bookings able to be cancelled without penalty, for a full refund of the points used and taxes and fees paid.
Passengers can then make a new reward booking when they’re ready to fly.
Virgin Australia flight changes and refunds
Virgin Australia is offering a similar fee waiver for domestic passengers seeking to change their flights, but with an unlimited number of changes on domestic bookings made between April 21 and September 30 2020, for travel until September 30 2020.
Guests can change their travel dates or even their destination, although any fare difference remains payable with each change.
On these bookings, outright cancellations, credits and refunds are only given in line with published fare rules – so while you may be able to change your flight for another, you won’t be able to convert the booking into a cash voucher, or get your money back, unless you purchased a fare type that allows this.
As Virgin Australia entered voluntary administration on April 21, bookings made prior to this date are not currently eligible for cash refunds, even if the fare rules would normally allow this.
Instead, passengers who wish to alter their plans can change the date or destination of their booking with no change fee (fare differences may apply), or can request a ‘conditional credit’ voucher, which can be applied towards a new travel booking at a later date.
Passengers who used Velocity Points to book their flight prior to April 21, for travel until September 30 2020, are permitted to change or cancel their booking without penalty, and are eligible for a full refund of the points used and taxes and fees paid.
As Velocity Points were temporary ‘frozen’ when Virgin Australia entered administration, the only reward bookings made after April 21 will relate to travel from September 2020, not throughout July and August.
More to follow...
Additional reporting by Chris Chamberlin