What a strange and sad week it has been for travel and Australia’s aviation industry! Over just a few days, Qantas and Virgin have both announced massive flight reductions – including the suspension of all international flights – which will result in substantial job losses. And Australia’s borders will be effectively closed from 9pm today. Meanwhile, the state of Tasmania is now requiring travellers from interstate to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival.
Among all the bad news, you may have missed some rare good news that came out of this week. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia will extend the current frequent flyer status of all members for a year – although this would have been nicer news under better circumstances. Meanwhile, Qantas launched its long-awaited Points Club this week!
This article contains an updated summary of the most important coronavirus news that is relevant to Australian frequent flyers. It specifically covers the implications of COVID-19 in terms of travel and loyalty programs. For the latest health advice, we recommend checking Australian government updates and the latest World Health Organization advice.
This article was last updated at 7am (AEDT) on 20 March 2020.
Latest Smartraveller advice
A good place to get travel advice updates from the Australian government is the Smartraveller website.
Here is an excerpt of the latest Smartraveller advice as of 18 March 2020:
We now advise all Australians: do not travel overseas at this time. This is our highest advice level (level 4 of 4).
If you are already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means.
Regardless of your destination, age or health, our advice is do not travel at this time.
As more countries close their borders or introduce travel restrictions, overseas travel is becoming more complex and difficult. You may not be able to return to Australia when you had planned to. Consider whether you have access to health care and support systems if you get sick while overseas. If you decide to return to Australia, do so as soon as possible. Commercial options may become less available.
Australia closes borders
In addition to the self-isolation requirement for inbound travellers that was introduced on Monday, the Australian government has announced that it will now close the country’s borders as of 9pm tonight. After this time, only Australian citizens, permanent residents, their immediate family members and operating flight crew will be allowed to enter the country. This is an indefinite travel ban.
Qantas, Virgin Australia announce drastic flight cuts, job losses
Qantas and Virgin have both announced that they will cancel all scheduled international flights from the end of this month. Qantas says that the grounding is until at least the end of May, while Virgin plans to resume international flights in mid-June. But this is subject to change.
Both airlines have also cut significant amounts of domestic flights, resulting in many staff being temporarily out of work.
Read more: Qantas Grounds All International Flights
Qantas to close all international airport lounges & Chairmans Lounges
Qantas will temporarily close all international lounges, stop providing access to partner airline and third-party lounges, shutter all domestic Chairmans Lounge locations and close 5 domestic Qantas Club lounges, until further notice.
Read more: Qantas Closes All International Lounges
Many airlines offering status extensions
They join a long list of other hotels and airlines to have offered either a monthly status credit supplement or status extensions to their loyal members. This list now also includes Air France/KLM, Aegean Airlines and Air New Zealand, which is also giving 12-months status extensions.
Tasmania introduces its own travel restrictions
After introducing arrival cards for all inbound interstate travellers on Tuesday, Tasmania has now gone a step further by implementing mandatory 14-day self-isolation for “non-essential travellers” arriving in the state.
Australian Dollar hits 18-year low
The depreciating Australian Dollar has reached its lowest point since 2002. This would normally make Australia more attractive to overseas visitors, but the new travel ban will prevent this.
More airlines have suspended operations
More airlines have suspended all flights indefinitely during recent days. These include Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, RwandAir and Air Serbia. More changes are likely in the coming days and weeks.
Australian government provides fee relief to airlines; may not be enough
The federal government has offered $715 million in assistance to Australia’s airlines, in the form of waived fees and charges, to help them stay afloat for a little longer. But this alone is unlikely to be enough as all airlines enter survival mode.
Regional Express could be the first to go if more is not done by the government. Rex is asking for more government assistance, warning it faces imminent bankruptcy as demand for its air services plummets.
Meanwhile, all three of the major global airline alliances – Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam – have jointly requested more help for the industry.
Some analysts predict that government bailouts for the airline industry are inevitable. Without this, many airlines wouldn’t be able to survive beyond May.
Spain to close all hotels
Every hotel in Spain will be forced to close from 24 March as the country fights to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
Alitalia will never die, apparently
Italian flag carrier Alitalia has been on shaky financial ground already for years. It has been technically bankrupt since 2017 and loses millions of Euros every week that it continues to fly. Despite this, the Italian government has now agreed to re-nationalise the airline to ensure it continues operating. Apparently this is one airline that will just keep flying, no matter how much money it loses in the process!
Airline call centres go into meltdown
Airline call centres globally have been struggling to keep up with demand in recent weeks. To make matters worse, call centres located in the Philippines had to shut down this week due to a lockdown mandated by the Philippines government. Both Virgin Australia and Qantas have call centres in Manila.
Air Tahiti Nui operates world’s longest domestic flight
Air Tahiti Nui normally operates its flight from Papeete to Paris via Los Angeles. But, due to the U.S. government travel restrictions announced last week, it decided to operate last week between French Polynesia and France without stopping. The flight from Papeete to Paris went into the history books as the world’s longest commercial flight – and it was even a domestic flight!
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