A wave of international Qantas flights could take wing this month as the airline works with the Government to bring home thousands of Australians stranded overseas.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed plans for a series of special repatriation flights are underway, saying “we are continuing to work with Qantas on further flights”, following previous Qantas charter flights from China, Japan and Honolulu.
“There are literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australians at any time overseas,” Payne told ABC Radio. “We will support as many Australians as we can to come home.”
Virgin Australia is also in discussions with the Government to run flights to rescue stranded Australians “where existing commercial flights are exhausted.”
Some repatriation flights will be to new destinations for the airlines, such as ports hosting cruise ships where cases of COVID-19 have been reported on board.
Speaking with the media prior to the grounding of all Qantas’ international flights, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said “if the Government feels we need to operate (unscheduled) services to bring Aussies back home, we of course would be open to doing that with them.”
“There are a lot of expat Australians around the globe. For us, there is unknown about how many ex-pats are offshore and how many want to be repatriated.”
“The government’s working through that data, with people contacting the various embassies around the globe… it may mean we’ll keep some links open to help people get back.”
Qantas is also in discussions with the UK Government about flights to London, which were suspended last week following a brief re-routing from the long-standing Singapore stopover to Darwin.
“We are liaising with Qantas to keep flights operational” noted Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to Australia, in an email sent on March 29 to British travellers still in Australia.
“We are working tirelessly with airlines to ensure planes keep flying, as well as with the Australian Government and international partners to keep commercial routes to the UK open.”
Qantas’ Oneworld partner Qatar Airways has temporarily ramped up its Australian presence with triple-daily flights to Sydney, a double-daily service to Melbourne, reinstating its 517-seat Airbus A380 to Perth and adding a new daily flight to Brisbane.
“Different airlines around the world have reduced or stopped flying (and) at the same time you’re also seeing governments suggesting new travel guidelines and advising citizens to come home,” Simon Talling-Smith, Qatar Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer, tells Executive Traveller.
“And I think on top of that you’ve just got this increasing sense of longing for home because people feel safe at home… so that is what we are wholly focused on right now – how can we get people home from right around the world.”