Update (22 January 2021): Emirates will reinstate flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane from next week.
It’s now January 2021, and there are still tens of thousands of Australians stuck overseas. Unfortunately for those Aussies, returning to Australia has just become even harder with super-connector Emirates withdrawing flights to most Australian cities and the Australian government further reducing international passenger arrival caps.
Emirates will cease flights to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne this week, citing “operational reasons”. The decision came after the Australian government implemented even stricter quarantine and testing regimes for international air crew, and temporarily reduced the maximum number of weekly overseas arrivals until 15 February 2021.
Australia’s weekly international passenger arrival caps are now set at:
- 490 passengers in South Australia
- 500 passengers in Queensland (a 50% reduction)
- 512 passengers in Western Australia (a 50% reduction)
- 1,120 passengers in Victoria
- 1,505 passengers in NSW (a 50% reduction)
Meanwhile, the capacity of the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin – where most of the Qantas repatriation flights are arriving – has been increaed from 250 to 425 people per week.
International flights operating to Australia in January 2021
Other than ad-hoc repatriation flights on behalf of the federal government, Qantas is currently operating scheduled international passenger services on only one route. Qantas’ Sydney-Auckland flights are running on Mondays and Fridays using Airbus A330s.
Jetstar and Air New Zealand are also operating limited flights from Auckland to Australia, with passengers arriving from New Zealand on one of these quarantine-free flights able to skip hotel quarantine.
Passengers coming from all other overseas destinations must quarantine in government-run hotels for 14 days following their arrival in Australia. But the hardest part for most returning Australians is simply finding an available seat on a commercial flight.
Here is a complete list of the airlines still operating international flights to Australia as of January 2021, in alphabetical order by airline:
|Air New Zealand||Auckland-Brisbane||Airbus A320neo||3x weekly|
|Air New Zealand||Auckland-Melbourne||Airbus A320neo||3x weekly|
|Air New Zealand||Auckland-Sydney||Airbus A320neo||4x weekly|
|Air Niugini||Port Moresby-Brisbane||Boeing 767-300||5x weekly|
|Air Niugini||Port Moresby-Cairns||Fokker 70||1x weekly|
|Aircalin||Noumea-Sydney||Airbus A330-900||1x weekly|
|American Airlines||Los Angeles-Sydney||Boeing 777-300ER||4x weekly|
|ANA||Tokyo-Sydney||Boeing 787-9||4x weekly|
|Asiana||Seoul-Sydney||Airbus A350-900||1x weekly|
|Cathay Pacific||Hong Kong-Brisbane||Airbus A350-900||1x weekly|
|Cathay Pacific||Hong Kong-Melbourne||Airbus A350-1000||4x weekly|
|Cathay Pacific||Hong Kong-Perth||Airbus A350-1000||3x weekly|
|Cathay Pacific||Hong Kong-Sydney||Airbus A350-1000||5x weekly|
|China Airlines||Taipei-Brisbane||Airbus A350-900||1x weekly|
|China Airlines||Taipei-Sydney||Airbus A350-900||1x weekly|
|China Eastern||Hangzhou-Sydney||Boeing 777-300||1x weekly|
|China Eastern||Shanghai-Sydney||Boeing 777-300||1x weekly|
|China Southern||Guangzhou-Melbourne||Airbus A380||1x weekly|
|China Southern||Sydney-Guangzhou||Airbus A380||1x weekly|
|Delta||Los Angeles-Sydney||Airbus A350-900||5x weekly|
|Emirates||Dubai-Perth||Boeing 777-300ER||2x weekly|
|Etihad||Abu Dhabi-Melbourne||Boeing 787-9||5x weekly|
|Etihad||Abu Dhabi-Sydney||Boeing 787-9||5x weekly|
|Fiji Airways||Nadi-Brisbane||Boeing 737-800||1x weekly|
|Fiji Airways||Nadi-Melbourne||Boeing 737-800||1x weekly|
|Fiji Airways||Nadi-Sydney||Airbus A330-200||2x weekly|
|Garuda||Jakarta-Melbourne||Airbus A330-300||1x weekly|
|Garuda||Jakarta-Perth||Boeing 737-800||1x weekly|
|Garuda||Jakarta-Sydney||Airbus A330-300||2x weekly|
|Japan Airlines||Tokyo-Sydney||Boeing 787-8||2x weekly|
|Jetstar||Auckland-Sydney||Airbus A320||2x weekly|
|Korean Air||Seoul-Sydney||Airbus A330-300||1x weekly|
|Malaysia Airlines||Kuala Lumpur-Melbourne||Airbus A330-300||1x weekly|
|Malaysia Airlines||Kuala Lumpur-Sydney||Airbus A330-300||1x weekly|
|Nauru Airlines||Nauru-Brisbane||Boeing 737-300||1x weekly|
|Qantas||Auckland-Sydney||Airbus A330-300||2x weekly|
|Qatar Airways||Doha-Adelaide||Airbus A350-900||3x weekly|
|Qatar Airways||Doha-Brisbane-Auckland||Boeing 777-300||3x weekly|
|Qatar Airways||Doha-Melbourne||Airbus A350-1000||Daily|
|Qatar Airways||Doha-Perth||Airbus A350-1000||4x weekly|
|Qatar Airways||Doha-Sydney||Boeing 777-300||Daily|
|Royal Brunei||Bandar Seri Begawan-Melbourne||Boeing 787-8||2x weekly|
|Singapore Airlines||Singapore-Adelaide||Airbus A350-900||4x weekly|
|Singapore Airlines||Singapore-Brisbane||Airbus A350-900||5x weekly|
|Singapore Airlines||Singapore-Melbourne||Airbus A350-900||Daily|
|Singapore Airlines||Singapore-Perth||Airbus A350/Boeing 787||Daily|
|Singapore Airlines||Singapore-Sydney||Airbus A350-900||2x daily|
|Solomon Airlines||Honiara-Brisbane||Airbus A320||2x weekly|
|Sri Lankan Airlines||Colombo-Melbourne||Airbus A330-300||2x weekly|
|Sri Lankan Airlines||Colombo-Sydney||Airbus A330-300||2x weekly|
|Thai Airways||Bangkok-Sydney||Airbus A350-900||1x weekly|
|United Airlines||Los Angeles-Sydney||Boeing 787-9||5x weekly|
|United Airlines||San Francisco-Sydney||Boeing 787-9||Daily|
|Xiamen Air||Xiamen-Sydney||Boeing 787-9||2x weekly|
Getting a seat on one of these flights is near-impossible
While there are a limited number of commercial international flights operating to Australia as of January 2021, many are only running once or twice per week. And all (except arrivals from New Zealand) are subject to the limited arrival caps, meaning the airlines can only sell around 30-50 seats per flight. This makes flying to Australia a loss-making endeavour for many airlines, even with cargo revenue at record highs.
Operating passenger flights to Australia is now so uneconomical, due to the government’s arrival caps, that some airlines are now just operating freight flights. This includes Qantas, which is still operating regular cargo-only flights to Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai. Many of these freight flights appear on flight-tracking Apps to be regular passenger flights as they are conducted with planes configured for passenger service.
Clearly, the demand for seats to Australia is currently far higher than supply. Most international flights are therefore sold out weeks or even months in advance, and the few seats that are available are extremely expensive.
For passengers booking tickets back to Australia, there’s also a huge risk that their booked flight will get cancelled. Many airlines are still selling seats on future flights that are unlikely to operate. And even passengers with confirmed tickets on flights that do go ahead risk being bumped by the airline, if arrival caps are lowered again or the flight is oversold.
So, which flights have available seats?
The quarantine-free Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand flights from Auckland to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have plenty of available seats. But to book one of these tickets, you must have been in New Zealand for at least the past 14 days and these flights are not available to passengers transiting from other international flights.
Other than that, the options are extremely limited. Australian Frequent Flyer did find some seats for sale on a few routes, for travel during the next two weeks:
- Jakarta-Sydney with Garuda Indonesia
- Jakarta-Melbourne with Garuda Indonesia (only full-price Business class)
- Nadi-Sydney with Fiji Airways
- Nadi-Brisbane with Fiji Airways
- Nadi-Melbourne with Fiji Airways
- Bandar Seri Begawan-Melbourne with Royal Brunei
Unfortunately, most of the available flights are from countries that don’t currently allow international transit passengers. This means they are only useful to Australians already in those countries.
There are plenty of seats available on outbound flights departing from Australia. But most inbound international flights to Australia have no seats available until at least next month – and in many cases until even March or April. Even full-price Business and First Class tickets are already sold out months in advance!
For Australians stuck in Europe, most of the next-available flights back to Australia would require transiting via the United States. But travellers coming from Europe may not currently enter or transit through the United States, rendering those flights useless. Realistically, the main commercial options are now via Doha, Abu Dhabi, Singapore or Tokyo.
If you’re in Singapore, Hong Kong or Manila, you may be able to travel to Brisbane via Port Moresby with Air Niugini – although the next available tickets are not until early March.
If you’re an Australian trying to return home, don’t forget to register with DFAT in case a seat becomes available on a chartered repatriation flight. That may be your best hope at this point, although registering with DFAT also does not guarantee you a seat.