Qantas says it's willing to relaunch international flights in December from Sydney and Melbourne, but not Brisbane or Perth, if Queensland and Western Australia insist on keeping their states closed after reaching the 80% vaccination milestone.
The premiers of both states have reserved the right to open their borders according to their own timetable and feeling of confidence in keeping their residents free from the spread of the problematic Covid-19 Delta variant.
However, if New South Wales and Victoria make good on their promise to follow the national plan and allow international travel after hitting the 80% vaccinated threshold, Qantas is more than ready to schedule flights to and from Sydney and Melbourne, while leaving Brisbane and Perth on hold.
"It is a national plan, and it's our view... we should open up together," Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully told a Tourism Australia webinar on Friday.
"But if not, we can plan for scenarios that Sydney and Melbourne can open up," she said, adding that "it's not ideal", but the airline needed to get moving again.
"We're excited to see that Australians want to travel. We think as soon as borders open up there will be large influx of demand."
Sydney to London – via Darwin?
Over the weekend, WA Premier Mark McGowan said people from New South Wales would not be allowed into WA for Christmas, even if they were fully vaccinated.
"Even though you might be vaccinated, you can still transmit the virus," he said. "So we're just going to have a very strong approach to these things (and) we'll make a decision when it's safe to do so."
Asked when he felt WA's hard border' would come down and let in visitors from eastern states, Mr McGowan told Seven West Media "I don't know whether it'll be February, March or April – I suspect it will be one of those months."
WA's stance is crucial to Qantas' flagship Perth-London route, which also sees passengers flying in from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide to Perth to join London-bound Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
However, Qantas has a Plan B – or rather a Plan D – to fly to London via Darwin should WA remain closed.
Darwin has been home to many of the airline's Boeing 787 repatriation flights throughout the Covid pandemic, and in March 2020 it also served as a short-term springboard to the UK for Qantas' Airbus A380 services between Sydney and London.
"We've got some good operational capability flying from Darwin to London, to Paris, to Frankfurt, to Istanbul, so we know that operation really well," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said last month.
The airline says it "is investigating using Darwin as a transit point, which has been Qantas' main entry for repatriation flights, as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia."
Qantas expects non-stop flights between Australia and London will be even more popular in the post-Covid era.
"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," Joyce added.
Flight searches surge
The airline reports almost a tripling of searches for international flights after announcing its restart strategy, with the most popular routes being Sydney-London, Melbourne-London, Sydney- Los Angeles, Sydney-Singapore and Sydney-Tokyo.
However, Tully said fares would be at approximately pre-pandemic levels.
"Pricing will not be high because our priority is to get people back in the air. As long as we can make a dollar in the air we will do it."
However, Tully repeated the airline's belief that "hotel quarantine should be eliminated or greatly reduced" in favour of home quarantine.
"Hotel quarantine is a demand killer," she said. "If it's 14 days' hotel quarantine we will not get the demand we need to operate."