Qantas has removed almost all international flights through to the end of March 2021 from its website – a date which would mark a full year since the airline first grounded its international fleet due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While the flights themselves have not been cancelled, and all previous bookings remain in place, the move prevents new bookings from being made on any overseas Qantas route except for flights to New Zealand.
Travellers searching for Qantas flights to the likes of Asia, the USA and London through to March 28, 2021 are being shown only flights operated by selected partner airlines such as Emirates, British Airways and Cathay Pacific.
March 28 marks the cut-over to the Northern Summer 2021 airline schedule period as defined by the International Air Transport Association.
Qantas has been approached for comment by Executive Traveller, but had not responded by the time this article was published.
Closing bookings and pulling flights from the Qantas website is considered a likely precursor to the flights themselves being cancelled, as happened in mid-June when Qantas cancelled most international flights through to late October 2020.
Passengers on flights cancelled by Qantas are entitled to a full refund or can have their booking turned into travel credit, which can used through to December 21, 2022, and also split across multiple bookings instead of being restricted to a single booking.
This could, for example, allow the travel credit for one international flight to be used for several domestic flights.
The long road to recovery
As staggering as this news might be in its implications for overseas travel, it's also far from unexpected.
Last month saw Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce forecast that with the exception of New Zealand and a handful of other 'travel bubble' destinations, all international flying would be suspended until the middle of 2021 unless a coronavirus vaccine is released.
"We might get trans-Tasman (travel) before then, we may get other nations opening up with bubbles," Joyce said last month, but he doesn't expect the Qantas' international network to restart "in any real size (until) July next year.”
"We have to be realistic about it and say with what’s happening in the rest of the globe it is probably an extended period of time" before Australia's borders are thrown open on a pre-pandemic scale, and it would be “years before international flying returns to what it was.”
Qantas has previously noted that "should travel between Australia and other countries open up and demand returns, we can add more flights back into our schedule."
Those flights would largely be the domain of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which will become Qantas' international flagship over the next few years, and the Airbus A330.
Qantas has begun mothballing all 12 of its Airbus A380s, with Joyce expecting the superjumbos to be stood down "for at least three years” until there’s sufficient demand to warrant the return of the 480-seat double-decker jets.