Qantas Pushes Back International Flights To October 2021

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Right at the very start of the year, Qantas announced that it was planning to restart international flights from July 2021. That news led to the airline receiving a short, sharp rebuke from the Australian authorities for preempting what should be a governmental decision. Now, following confirmation that Qantas’ international flights will now not resume before October, it would appear as if the airline has come to heel.

Qantas announced its figures yesterday and they didn’t make for happy reading. The airline has good liquidity as of 31 December – AU$4.2bn (US$3.4bn) – but it posted an underlying loss before tax of AU$1.03bn (US$820m) and announced a $6.9bn (US$5.5bn) decrease in revenue for the 6 months to December 2020, so it’s easy to see why the airline is eager to get as much of its route network going again as soon as is physically possible.

Sadly for Qantas, the Australian government is highly unlikely to sanction the reopening of international borders before the majority of its population has received a COVID vaccine, and as the country’s vaccine rollout only started on Sunday (4 days ago), that’s not expected to be the case until October of this year*.

Rather than trying to set its own timeline for restarting its international routes, Qantas is now making a direct link between when the Australian Government expects to have most of its population inoculated and when it will relaunch international service so, following an announcement yesterday, we now know not to expect to see Qantas carrying passengers outside of Australia/New Zealand before 31 October 2021 – that’s 4 months past the originally planned restart date of 1 July 2021.

The airline has said that, from the outset, it plans to restart flights to 22 of the 25 destinations that it served pre-COVID but as its A380s will remain grounded and its Dreamliners are required to fill in, flights to New York (from Los Angeles), Osaka, and Santiago will not resume until an unspecified future date.

A knock-on effect of this announcement on oneworld flyers is that this probably means that we won’t see any of the excellent Qantas international lounges reopening before the last quarter of the year so, if you’re a fan of the lounges in places like Los Angeles and London, that’s bad news.

As part of its change of plans, Qantas has said that its cancellation/rebooking policy for international bookings has now been brought in line with the policy that it has been employing on domestic and Trans Tasman flights during the pandemic.

For international bookings made between 24 February and 30 April (this deadline may be extended), Qantas passengers can now change their flight date to any available date for sale at the time (up to 355 days in advance) without incurring a change fee penalty. Unsurprisingly, however, any fare differences arising will still have to be paid.

Qantas has also extended credit vouchers to enable travel until 31 December 2023 on domestic or international flights and has confirmed that customers with international bookings for travel between July and October will be contacted directly and offered alternatives.

Bottom Line

A month and a half ago Qantas was planning to restart its international network from 1 July but as of yesterday, that plan has been shelved. The airline has now aligned its international route reboot with the Australian government’s vaccine rollout plans and that means that, as things stand, Qantas will not be flying passengers on long-haul international routes before 31 October 2021.

*As an interesting point of reference, by 24 February, the UK had administered at least 1 vaccine shot to over 18 million people (equal to approximately 70% of the Australian population).