Qantas and Virgin Australia are both offering flights from Australia to Bali from March 2022, as the Indonesian island’s mammoth second wave of COVID-19 cases begins to subside.
Both carriers are set to begin regular services between Australia and Bali from Sunday, 27 March, as the government nears its official announcement for the return of overseas travel.
The two airlines will introduce regular Boeing 737 flights connecting Melbourne and Sydney to Bali/Denpasar, while Virgin will also offer flights from Brisbane to the popular holiday destination.
It comes as Indonesia’s second wave of COVID infections begins to subside, just weeks after the country saw its peak of 50,000 new cases per day. The country continues to see thousands of infections per day.
Qantas has also reintroduced flights to the UK and US from mid-December, while Virgin is headed back to Fiji from 23 December.
The news comes as rumours continue to swell that the government is just days away from announcing when international borders are set to re-open for Australians.
Last week, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan confirmed that Australians will be free to travel internationally by Christmas “at the latest”, in keeping with the government’s national re-opening plan.
The tourism minister confirmed that the federal government had no plans to stray from its current national re-opening plan, which allows for the opening of international borders once the national adult population reaches 80 per cent vaccination.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has long suggested that Australia’s international borders will re-open once the country achieves an 80 per cent vaccination rate in its adult population, and that travel overseas will be exclusive to vaccinated travellers.
Minister Tehan said the government was now working to get all the required systems and processes ready and in place to allow people to freely leave and return to Australia.
“We’re doing that preparatory work to make sure that when those international borders open, hopefully at the latest by Christmas, Australians will be able to travel with a QR code linked to their passport, which will be able to show a proof of vaccination,” he said.
It also follows news that the government could now lift Australia’s ban on international travel as soon as November, pending vaccination rates.
Since March 2020, the federal government has imposed a ban on Australian citizens and residents leaving the country, unless they receive a valid exemption.
Just days after it announced the ban would be extended to mid-December, the government revealed a new plan to drop the ban as early as November, following the introduction of a fit-for-purpose vaccine passport.
However, the industry has repeatedly warned that the impending mass restart of international flights could be significantly hindered due to the fact that little concrete information has been made available to airlines and airports.
Earlier this month, Australian Aviation revealed that airports were still in the dark about the procedures and requirements of post-pandemic travel.
“At the moment, we still don’t know what procedures will be for passengers coming in from overseas, and what is needed of airports, airlines, staff and government agencies to facilitate that,” Australian Airports Association CEO James Goodwin said.
“There are long lead times in aviation, so six or 12 months is not actually a long time in our world. So a lot of this planning could have and should have been done a long time ago.”
Alarms were raised earlier that airports, and the industry more broadly, is not yet prepared to see the influx of international passenger traffic, should international borders reopen by the end of this year.
Specifically, Goodwin said the industry is unaware of exactly how the government wants passengers to be screened both before and after their flights, and how passengers who must enter hotel quarantine will be separated from others.
“It’s so important that we know what those rules and protocols will be for passengers as soon as possible, including how they’ll be screened, because if we need to make changes to our terminal to account for that, it will take time,” he said.
“Airports weren’t designed to be separating passengers based on their health or their vaccine status, so we need to prepare.”
Further, industry bodies earlier warned that Australia’s restart of international travel could be delayed by months due to a “torrential exit” of skilled ground services workers from aviation.
Speaking before the Senate rural and regional affairs and transport references committee, the Australian Aviation Ground Handlers Industry Alliance (AAGHIA) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) argued that the exclusion of ground handlers from aviation-specific government wage subsidies could see “thousands” of skilled workers leave the industry, resulting in hundreds of cancelled flights.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the industry could see a “torrential exit” of skilled workers that have fallen through the cracks of the government’s aviation and COVID disaster relief payments.
“People simply cannot be stood down, indefinitely, without pay,” Kaine said on Monday. “They won’t be able to support their families and so they will leave the industry.”