Qantas has made another significant move to return to international flying as quickly as possible by restarting ticket sales across its entire global network for routes departing on or after 1 July.
The surprise decision comes despite October’s federal budget revealing the government isn’t planning for international travel to return until the latter part of 2021.
However, it also follows increasing optimism that the COVID crisis could end in the next few months, with the UK, US and Israel in particular rapidly increasing their vaccination programs.
Tickets for flights departing on 1 July and returning at the end of the month range from $3,400 return from Sydney to London; and $2,000 from Sydney to New York (La Guardia).
Qantas 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.”
Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.
The gloom was compounded by October 2020’s federal budget, which officially predicted that “A gradual return of international students and permanent migrants is assumed through the latter part of 2021 (with small, phased pilot programs beginning to return international students from late 2020).
“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through the latter part of 2021, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is also assumed to occur.”
That forecast chimed with claims by then-acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge, who said Australia may only open its borders to the world when a vaccine becomes “globally available”.
However, in late December, the UK became the first country in the world to approve the cheaper, more easily transportable Oxford vaccine. On Tuesday morning, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson then pledged to vaccinate all the most vulnerable groups by mid-February, accelerating the vaccine program following similar moves by Israel.
Qantas’ move also comes shortly after it said it would launch a new business with Japan Airlines in July.
The deal will involve an expanded codeshare relationship, additional flights, new routes and collaboration on pricing.
It comes after Australian Aviation reported comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in October 2020 suggesting Japan could be one of the first locations the country will open to.
The two airlines said they had already submitted an application for authorisation to regulators in Australia and New Zealand, with a decision due within six months.
Any attempt by Qantas to completely restart its network is likely to be hampered by its decision to ground many of its aircraft in long-term storage.
Currently, all 12 of its A380s are in hibernation, with six of those having been upgraded beforehand.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said that the A380s “have to remain on the ground for at least three years until we see those international volumes brought back”.
“The aircraft are being put into the Mojave Desert, where the environment protects the aircraft (because) we have the intention at the right time to restart them, but that is a considerable amount of time away,” said Joyce.