Qantas will launch 20 international repatriation flights across February and March to bring home some of the nearly 40,000 Australians stranded overseas.
The flights, which will use Qantas' flagship Boeing 787-9 jet, have been arranged in conjunction with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and will be underwritten by the federal government.
“These flights will bring people back from the United Kingdom, Europe, India and other places where vulnerable Australians are most in need of assistance,” said Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack over the weekend.
Qantas has confirmed to Executive Traveller that it will operate the flights, and hopes to share more details later this week.
McCormack said the charter flights, which will run from January 31 to March 31, “will complement scheduled commercial services arriving in our international airports, which continue to provide the main avenue for Australians to return.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the government “will continue to work with commercial carriers such as Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines to support Australians to get seats, where possible, so they can return.”
Those and other airlines such as Etihad Airways will be able to slightly increase the number of passengers they can carry on some flights following the decision by Emirates to suspend flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane "until further notice" following a drastic cut in the number of international passengers allowed to arrive in Australia.
As of January 15 the maximum number of weekly international arrivals was slashed to less than 5,000 "to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travellers who have been potentially exposed to the new variants" of coronavirus, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Each Qantas flight is expected to carry around 180-200 passengers; prices have yet to be advised and will depend on the point of origin and any applicable taxes levied by that country.
For example, government-subsidised Qantas flights from London and New Delhi across October-November 2020 saw economy fares at $1,500-$2,500 per person, while the Qantas flight departing Frankfurt on 12 December listed seats on the Boeing 787 available across all three cabin classes from the following prices:
- business class, €5,372 (A$8,429)
- premium economy, €2,241 (A$3,516)
- economy, €1,297 (A$2,035)
All passengers will be required to undergo a Covid-19 test at least 48 hours prior to departure and must return a negative test result in order to board the aircraft, and wear a mask throughout the flight.
Passengers will also need to pay for their 14-day quarantine, which at Howard Springs is currently set at $2,500 per person and $5,000 for families of two or more. Travellers in financial hardship will be offered government loans.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is expected to contact Australians living overseas who have registered with the department, to advise them of available flights in their country.