Executive Traveller exclusive
Qantas is beginning the new year with a note of optimism on the prospects of vaccination and preflight COVID-19 testing helping to restart international travel.
The airline has now reopened bookings across its entire overseas network for travel from July 1, 2021. This includes flights to the USA and London, having previously pulled those routes from the schedule until at least October 2021.
New Zealand has remained the only overseas destination listed on Qantas' timetable through to March 29.
However, as previously reported, planned March 29 resumption of flights to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan has now been scrapped in favour of a July 1 reboot for almost all international Qantas flights.
A Qantas spokesperson told Executive Traveller the airline has "aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021."
"We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation."
The Federal Government has been critical of Qantas' move, with Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Michael McCormack saying "decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government."
"International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians."
New York a notable omission
A handful of destinations are missing from Qantas the July 2021 roster.
Perhaps the most notable is New York – Qantas previously flew a Boeing 787 between Los Angeles and New York's JFK Airport – while direct Brisbane-Chicago flights, which were set to launch on 15 April 2020, have yet to make a return.
Non-stop flights from Sydney to Santiago, which previously relied on one of Qantas' now-retired Boeing 747s but was due to be swapped for a Boeing 787, are still suspended, although Sydney-Johannesburg has bounced back with a Dreamliner doing duty on the 14-hour trek.
Speaking at the Qantas' 2020 annual general meeting in October, Qantas Group CEO Alan, Joyce said that "for some of our big destination like the United States and the UK, it's going to need a vaccine given the high prevalence of the virus in both of those locations."
"But we are getting more and more confident about the opportunities and the potential for a vaccine in helping getting those operations up by potentially by the end of 2021."
Joyce has previously said that vaccination will be mandatory for all international Qantas flights, with likely exceptions made on 'travel bubble' corridors.
And with all 12 of Qantas' Airbus A380s mothballed until at least 2023, the Boeing 787-9 will replace the superjumbo on flagship routes to London, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth.
Qantas is expected to bring back all the Boeing 787s currently idling at a storage facility at the edge of California's Mojave Desert, including three Dreamliners which flew straight there from Boeing's Seattle assembly line.
Some routes will also see a reduction in frequency. For example, Sydney-Hong Kong – which used to see two Qantas flights per day in pre-COVID times – will initially be cut back to a single daily Boeing 787.
Vaccination rollout begins
Both the UK and the USA have now begun national vaccination programs, while Australian approval for two vaccine candidates is now expected in February.
These are the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for which the federal government has a purchasing agreement for 10 million doses, and the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine, with almost 54 million doses – with 50 million of those to be manufactured in Melbourne.
Each vaccine will requite two doses per person – one starter and one booster, administered 2-4 weeks apart – and pending approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, are expected to be available from March.
51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which is currently in late-stage trials, have also been earmarked for Australia.
COVID-19 vaccinations will be free to all Australian residents, although the rollout will be prioritised for front-line healthcare and aged care workers and quarantine staff whose jobs put them at increased risk of exposure and transmission, along with people with a heightened risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says that Australia "is on track and ahead of schedule" in its vaccine approvals process and he now expects all Australians will be "fully vaccinated" against COVID-19 by October 2021, an advance from the previous target of the end of 2021.
“We expect that Australians will be fully vaccinated by the end of October, on the basis that it’s free, universal and entirely voluntary,” Hunt remarked on December 28, 2020, adding that a vaccination uptake of 80% was forecast.
Executive Traveller readers: how quickly do you expect to resume your international travel, and what will be driving that decision? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.