Qantas says it now plans to resume international flights to most destinations from the end of October 2021, although it has so far only resumed selling tickets on 27 of its previous 37 international long-haul routes.
Last month, Qantas – perhaps too optimistically – reopened international bookings from 1 July 2021. But the airline yesterday revised the expected start date for international flights yet again, based on numerous factors.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve updated our assumptions on international travel restarting,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said while announcing Qantas’ half-year loss of more than $1 billion on Thursday.
“Since the start of this year, we’ve seen a huge surge in COVID cases around the world, new strains emerging and a shift from ‘herd immunity’ as the threshold for opening borders to ‘fully vaccinated’.
“As a result, we’re now planning for international travel to restart at the end of October this year, in-line with the date for Australia’s vaccine rollout to be effectively complete,” Mr Joyce said.
Qantas international bookings to most destinations are now available for travel commencing from 31 October 2021. As well as the time COVID-19 vaccinations are expected to be completed in Australia, this date marks the beginning of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) northern winter scheduling period. During normal times, airlines often make seasonal adjustments to their schedules which coincide with the beginning or end of the IATA season.
However, nobody really knows yet whether international border restrictions will be sufficiently relaxed by October for Qantas to be able to restart commercial passenger flights.
“We’re in close consultation with government, and if things change, so will our dates. But with the vaccine rollout already underway, we’re on the right track,” Joyce said.
After Qantas announced in January 2021 that it was planning to restart international flights in July 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was very quick to point out that “decisions about when international travel resumes will by made by the Australian government”, not Qantas.
“Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines,” McCormack said.
While most long-haul routes won’t return until at least October, Qantas is now preparing to ramp up trans-Tasman flights to New Zealand from July 2021.
But Qantas is unlikely to stick to this schedule unless a quarantine-free travel bubble is established between Australia and New Zealand. So far, this aspiration has proven elusive.
The Australian government did remove the requirement for New Zealanders to quarantine upon arrival to Australia in October 2020, allowing Qantas to resume twice-weekly Sydney-Auckland flights. But the hotel quarantine requirement has been repeatedly reinstated for travellers from New Zealand whenever there is a COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland. Indeed, the one-way trans-Tasman bubble is currently suspended again for this reason.
What will Qantas’ post-COVID flight schedule look like?
While there is still much uncertainty about whether the Qantas international flights currently scheduled from 31 October 2021 will operate, they provide an indication of how Qantas plans to initially ramp up international flights once borders reopen.
Qantas will not immediately restore all of its pre-COVID schedules, but will gradually increase capacity as demand picks up.
The airline also won’t immediately bring its double-decker Airbus A380s out of long-term storage once borders reopen. Instead, the smaller (and more fuel-efficient) Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s will predominantly be used for international flights until at least 2023. (Qantas retired all of its remaining Boeing 747s in 2020.)
Qantas is currently selling tickets on 27 of the 37 international routes it served before COVID-19 (excluding New Zealand). But 10 routes will not immediately return, five routes will operate at a reduced frequency and a further four routes will be “downgraded” to a smaller aircraft.
Qantas has not yet resumed selling tickets to New York, Santiago, Osaka, Sapporo or Vancouver, nor to Chicago (Qantas’ Brisbane-Chicago route was due to launch in April 2020). The flying kangarooo also plans to significantly reduce capacity to Tokyo and Hong Kong in the short term.
Here is a full list of Qantas international routes (exluding New Zealand) before and after the COVID-19 shutdown:
|Route||Pre-COVID schedule||From 31 October 2021|
|Sydney-Singapore-London||Daily A380||Daily 787|
|Sydney-Honolulu||5x weekly A330||5x weekly A330|
|Sydney-Dallas/Fort Worth||Daily A380||Daily 787|
|Melbourne-Perth-London||Daily 787||Daily 787|
|Sydney-Los Angeles-New York||Daily A380/787||Daily 787 (SYD-LAX only)|
|Brisbane-Los Angeles||Daily 787||Daily 787|
|Sydney-Manila||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Sydney-Bangkok||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Sydney-Tokyo||Daily 747||Daily A330|
|Sydney-Santiago||4x weekly 747||No flights|
|Melbourne-Hong Kong||Daily A330/787||Daily A330|
|Sydney-Osaka||3x weekly A330||No flights|
|Melbourne-Singapore||Daily A380 + 3x weekly A330||Daily A330|
|Sydney-Sapporo||3x weekly A330 (summer seasonal)||No flights|
|Sydney-Jakarta||6x weekly A330||6x weekly A330|
|Sydney-Denpasar||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Melbourne-Denpasar||Daily 737||Daily 737|
|Melbourne-San Francisco||4x weekly 787||4x weekly 787|
|Brisbane-Singapore||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Brisbane-Port Moresby||Daily 737||Daily 737|
|Brisbane-San Francisco||3x weekly 787||No flights|
|Brisbane-Tokyo||Daily A330||No flights|
|Sydney-Johannesburg||6x weekly 747||Daily 787|
|Perth-Singapore||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Sydney-San Francisco||Daily 787||Daily 787|
|Sydney-Vancouver||3x weekly 787 (summer seasonal)||No flights|
|Melbourne-Tokyo||Daily A330||3x weekly A330|
|Sydney-Singapore||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Brisbane-Chicago||4x weekly 787 (was due to launch April 2020)||No flights|
|Brisbane-Noumea||2x weekly 737||1x weekly 737|
|Sydney-Noumea||4x weekly 737||4x weekly 737|
|Melbourne-Los Angeles||Daily A380 + 2x weekly 787||6x weekly 787|
|Brisbane-Hong Kong||Daily A330/787||No flights|
|Sydney-Nadi||4x weekly 737||4x weekly 737|
|Sydney-Hong Kong||Daily 787 + daily A330||Daily 787 (likely downgrade to A330)|
|Sydney-Shanghai||Daily A330||Daily A330|
|Cairns-Port Moresby||6x weekly Q400||No flights|
Greater booking flexibility
With so much uncertainty still surrounding international travel, we don’t really recommend booking any international flights at the moment for travel that’s still many months away.
However, Qantas is at least offering greater booking flexibility to entice customers to book new international tickets. For bookings made until at least 30 April 2021, Qantas is allowing unlimited fee-free changes until 28 February 2021. This brings international bookings in line with Qantas’ policy for domestic and trans-Tasman bookings.
Qantas also says it will provide a refund if your flight gets cancelled – although, based on Qantas’ current track record, you may be waiting many months to get your money back.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qantas reopens international bookings from July 2021 [now October]