Qantas is to push back its plan to restart international flying from 1 July to 31 October following government criticism of the earlier date.
The business said it will then operate 22 of its 25 routes to destinations including Los Angeles, London and Johannesburg in line with Australia’s vaccine rollout.
Its change of strategy comes after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack issued a stinging rebuke of Qantas’ decision to go earlier, a move that he said would be dictated by border policy.
On Thursday, the business said it’s now in “close consultation with the federal government” around the reopening of borders.
Most of its network will restart on 31 October, but it won’t initially resume flights to New York, Santiago and Osaka.
Jetstar will resume flights to all 13 of its destinations and both carriers will offer improved flexibility to change flights, in line with its domestic announcement.
“Capacity will be lower than pre-COVID levels, with frequencies and aircraft type deployed on each route in line with the projected recovery of international flying. International capacity is not expected to fully recover until 2024,” said the business in a statement.
“Qantas is assessing the use of digital health pass apps to help support the resumption of COVID-safe international travel. The CommonPass and IATA Travel Pass smartphone apps are being trialled on the airline’s international repatriation flights.”
In January, Deputy PM McCormack said, “International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians. Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government.”
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.
Qantas’ decision to sell tickets in July was surprising given October 2020’s federal budget revealed the government isn’t planning for international travel to return until the latter part of 2021.
Tickets for flights departing on 1 July and returning at the end of the month were on sale in January from $3,400 return from Sydney to London; and $2,000 from Sydney to New York (La Guardia).
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.
The news came after Qantas also said that it recorded a $1.47 billion statutory loss before tax in the six months to 31 December, which it blamed on Victoria’s second lockdown and border closures.