Qantas has scrapped the planned October 31 2021 restart of its whole international network following the government's declaration that Australia's border will remain closed to most countries until the middle of next year.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg mapped out the revised timeline after last night's 2021 budget, saying it was "quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year."
With Qantas' international reboot tied to the government's vaccination rollout and border controls, the airline has been forced to push back its restart date for the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic saw the country's international borders locked down in March 2020.
The airline today announced it would cancel most international flights scheduled from October 31 through to late December, with a spokesman advising "we will keep reviewing these plans as we move towards December and circumstances evolve."
Services to New Zealand under the trans-Tasman bubble will remain in place, and the airline is now pinning its hopes on the opening of similar quarantine-free travel bubbles to the likes of the Pacific Islands and Singapore.
"We remain optimistic that additional bubbles will open once Australia's vaccine rollout is complete to countries who, by then, are in a similar position, but it's difficult to predict which ones at this stage," the spokesman said, adding that Qantas would remain "ready to take advantage of pockets of tourism and trade opportunity as they emerge in a post-COVID world."
Qantas says it will directly contact any would-be travellers with bookings "between 31 October 2021 and 19 December 2021."
"A high number of calls to our contact centre is resulting in long wait times. We continue to add more resources in response but encourage customers who are not travelling in the next 24 hours to please wait for us to contact you directly regarding these latest changes."
A moving target
Qantas put most of its international flights back on sale earlier this year, saying the revised October 31 reboot – which had already been deferred from an early and more ambitious target of July 1 – aligned "with the expected timeframe for Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout to be effectively complete."
But with the government's vaccination plan well behind schedule, while new and more virulent strains of COVID continue to spread around the world, the airline has once again pressed pause on the return of overseas flights.
Qantas has always stressed that its international schedule would track against the government's own border controls, with CEO Alan Joyce remarking earlier this month "we know that date [when international travel will resume] may change [and] we're completely flexible on this."
"We are getting our aircraft and people ready for the end of October, but we have complete flexibility. If we need to open bubbles before, we can and that may happen. If we need to push things out because the vaccine rollout isn't as fast as we would expect, we can do that."
Focus on travel bubbles
Qantas' focus for international travel will now turn to quarantine-free travel bubbles.
"It all depends on what level of COVID is in an individual country, and what level of restrictions and testing will be put in place," Joyce remarked ahead of the opening of the Australia-New Zealand bubble.
"There are clearly a lot of countries in the region, especially in the Asia-Pacific, that have had a tight control on COVID. They give us market opportunities for Singapore, like Japan, markets like Taiwan for us to potentially open up."