Qantas will fly Airbus A330s from Brisbane to Los Angeles and could redirect some of its flights to London via Darwin, instead of Perth, when international flights gradually resume.
These are part of the flying kangaroo’s plans revealed today to restart substantial international flying from mid-December 2021, based on the timeline of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout. The announcement came as Qantas reported a $1.83 billion underlying loss for the 2020-21 financial year amid what Qantas CEO Alan Joyce described as “frankly diabolical” trading conditions.
“Talking to airline CEOs overseas, it’s clear the rest of the world is opening up – especially across the UK, Europe and United States,” Joyce said.
“Australia now also has a plan for re-opening. And based on that plan, we’ve reshaped our own assumptions about restarting international flights.”
The Australian government’s four-phase plan
The Australian government has flagged that the country would reach Phase C of National Cabinet’s “four-phase” reopening plan once 80% of the Australian adult population has been immunised against COVID-19. Qantas believes this target will be reached by December 2021.
Reaching Phase C would allow a gradual reopening of Australia’s borders, including the removal of the outbound travel ban, increased arrival caps and reduced inbound quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers. Under this phase, the Australian government has also said it would open more quarantine-free travel bubbles with “safe” countries, which could include Singapore and Pacific Island nations.
“We expect flights to countries with high vaccine rates to resume from mid-December ’21 onwards – that includes Singapore, Japan, the US, the UK and hopefully New Zealand,” Joyce said.
First international flights due to restart in December 2021
Based on these assumptions, Qantas is now selling tickets on international flights to selected destinations from 18 December 2021.
From this date, Qantas currently plans to resume flights to New Zealand. It is also now selling tickets on the following routes from 18 December 2021:
|Sydney-Honolulu||Airbus A330-300||4x weekly|
|Sydney-Los Angeles||Boeing 787-9||Daily|
|Brisbane-Los Angeles||Airbus A330-200||3x weekly|
|Melbourne-Los Angeles||Boeing 787-9||4x weekly|
|Sydney-Tokyo (Haneda)||Airbus A330-300||4x weekly|
|Sydney-Vancouver||Boeing 787-9||3x weekly|
|Melbourne-Singapore||Airbus A330-300||4x weekly|
|Brisbane-Singapore||Airbus A330-300||3x weekly|
|Sydney-Nadi||Boeing 737-800||3x weekly|
If these flights do go ahead from mid-December as Qantas is hoping, it would be just in time for Christmas. Qantas reported back in April that forward bookings to the USA and UK for Christmas this year were already strong.
Hong Kong to resume from February 2022
More international routes are due to return in 2022, with Hong Kong slated as the next destination.
From 14 February 2022, Qantas plans to resume Sydney-Hong Kong flights. These will run 4x weekly using Airbus A330-300s. Qantas will also resume 3x weekly Melbourne-Hong Kong flights using the A330-300.
But the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge won’t be returning and has now closed permanently. Qantas passengers will be directed to use what’s left of the Cathay Pacific lounges instead.
More destinations to follow from April 2022
Qantas says that the rest of its and Jetstar’s international network is due to open back up from around April 2022. Destinations in this category include Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Africa, Vietnam and Chile.
Qantas flights from Sydney to Johannesburg, for example, are currently scheduled to resume from 27 March 2022. But this is very much subject to change.
Capacity will increase gradually, in line with demand.
Qantas to fly A330s from Brisbane to Los Angeles & San Francisco
When international travel initially resumes, none of Qantas’ Airbus A380s will be back in service. Instead, Boeing 787s will be used on routes normally reserved for A380s such as Sydney-Los Angeles and Sydney-London.
While Qantas will take delivery of three more Boeing 787-9s, this will still leave it a few aircraft short for its long-haul operations. The solution will be to use Airbus A330-200s on the Brisbane-Los Angeles, and later, Brisbane-San Francisco routes.
Routes like Los Angeles-Brisbane are pushing the limits of the A330-200’s range. But Qantas is working with Airbus to get its planes re-certified to operate these longer flights. Australian Frequent Flyer understands that some of these A330 flights will be weight-restricted, and that some Economy seats will be blocked off and used as crew rests.
Passengers on these longer A330 flights shouldn’t notice much difference. In fact, the Qantas A330 Economy seats are wider than the Boeing 787 Economy seats. However, the A330 doesn’t have a Premium Economy cabin and there are significantly fewer Business Class seats (42 on the Dreamliner versus 27 on the A330). That’s not ideal if you’re hoping for a points upgrade.
Other planned changes to North America services
Qantas’ services from Australia to Los Angeles have traditionally left Australia mid-morning and arrived in Los Angeles around 6am, allowing for Qantas connections to New York. But with Qantas’ Los Angeles-New York tag flight being dropped, the Sydney-Los Angeles and Melbourne-Los Angeles flights have been retimed to depart Australia in the late evening.
Meanwhile, it looks like Qantas’ Sydney-Vancouver route will soon operate year-round instead of just for a few weeks over the summer & winter school holidays. And the Sydney-Honolulu route is being renumbered as QF103/104.
Qantas to fly Melbourne-Darwin-London?
Since March 2018, Qantas’ Melbourne-London flights had been operating via Perth. The Perth-London leg of this Dreamliner service had been a star performer for Qantas’ international business until the pandemic.
But Qantas has now flagged that it’s considering changing the stopover on its Melbourne-London flight from Perth to Darwin “given conservative border policies in Western Australia”.
Either way, Qantas will certainly be continuing non-stop flights between Australia and London. The airline expects these flights will be in even higher demand post-COVID.
Is Qantas’ plan realistic?
If vaccinated Australians are allowed to travel overseas with minimal restrictions in less than four months, as Qantas believes to be the case, that would be extremely welcome news for many people. But is this realistic?
So far, at almost every step of the pandemic, Qantas’ assumptions have been too optimistic. The airline has continuously published international flight schedules which have had to be later postponed.
“The nature of COVID means we’ve had to change our plans a couple of times already. And we can’t rule out having to move them again,” Alan Joyce said.
“I know the prospect of flying overseas might feel a long way off – especially with New South Wales and Victoria in lockdown. Some people might say we’re still being too optimistic.
“But the current pace of the vaccine rollout means all Australian states are on track to reach the 80 per cent target by December – which is the trigger for starting to carefully open to some parts of the world. That means there’s a lot of work that has to begin now.”
Joyce acknowledges that his plan relies on decisions made by the Australian government, but says that the government agrees with the airline’s general assumptions.
“We’re in regular discussion with the government and have shared our plans with them. While they don’t have a crystal ball either, they agree our broad assumptions are reasonable,” Joyce said.
Many other countries have already reopened their borders to fully vaccinated travellers. Hopefully, Australia is on track to do the same soon.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Predictions of when international flights may resume/bans lifted
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