Qantas says it has already sold “a lot” of international flights for travel in late 2021 and early 2022, with the UK and United States among the most popular destinations.
Other than trans-Tasman and ad-hoc repatriation flights, Qantas has not operated international passenger flights since March 2020 due to Australia’s ongoing international border closure. But Qantas currently expects to resume international flights from October 2021, and is currently selling tickets on 27 of its 37 pre-covid international routes (excluding New Zealand) for travel beyond 31 October 2021.
Last week, Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully told reporters at the reopening of the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney that forward bookings on these Qantas international flights beyond October were very strong.
Many Qantas customers are booking international flights now for the December-January holiday period, with many long-haul trips sold for travel around Christmas and over the 2021-22 summer school holidays.
“We’ve got a lot of Australians that are really confident in travel during the school holidays and over Christmas in December and January,” Ms Tully said.
“We’ve seen a lot of holiday bookings, particularly to London and the US.”
Initially, all Qantas flights to the UK and United States will be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners when international flights resume. But Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said last week that he expects all twelve of the airline’s Airbus A380s to be brought back from long-term storage eventually.
Is an October 2021 international restart realistic?
With the launch of the trans-Tasman bubble, allowing for quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand, Qantas has already ramped up flights to New Zealand. But the airline is unlikely to add flights to other international destinations while quarantine requirements remain in place for travellers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged that vaccinated travellers returning to Australia may be able to quarantine at home by the second half of this year. This could relieve some of the pressure on Australia’s hotel quarantine system, which would be helpful to the tens of thousands of Australians still trying to return home. But Alan Joyce believes that a home quarantine requirement would still deter the vast majority of travellers, and doesn’t think restarting international flights would be viable for Qantas until the 14-day quarantine requirement is removed entirely.
On the other hand, Joyce believes international borders should be opened once the majority of Australians are vaccinated.
“I am hoping once we get to herd immunity for the adult population in Australia, there should be no reason why you do not open up the international borders,” Mr Joyce said.
The airline’s plan to restart international flights in October 2021, announced in February, had indeed been based on the assumption that the majority of Australia’s adult population would be vaccinated by October – as the government had announced would happen back in February. But with the vaccine rollout now delayed, this has called the October 2021 restart into doubt.
Qantas customers given flexibility
If Qantas is not able to resume international flights by late October 2021, as currently planned, customers with cancelled bookings will at least be offered refunds. Customers are also able to change their travel dates without paying any change fees (although any fare difference will apply).
Ms Tully believes that the airline’s flexible booking policy is giving customers the confidence to book their Christmas holiday travel now, despite the uncertainty around borders.
“What we’ve done with our customers is we’ve put in some additional flexibility,” Tully said.
She also said that Qantas is one of the fairest airlines in the world in terms of offering customers the opportunity to change their bookings without fees.
Although the ACCC was forced to intervene early in the pandemic, and refunds from the airline can take months to process, Qantas has at least been offering refunds or travel credits to all customers whose flights are cancelled due to COVID-19.
This may have presented a cash-flow challenge for Qantas in the short term, but customers are much more likely to book again in the future when they have been treated fairly.
Conversely, many airlines that refused to offer refunds for cancelled flights during the pandemic are now struggling to attract forward bookings. Customers have long memories and it’s often a case of “once bitten, twice shy”.
Air Canada, for example, attracted so much negative publicity by refusing to refund cancelled tickets that it has now backtracked and is finally offering refunds to customers with bookings affected by COVID-19 for a limited time. Air Canada has also changed its refund policy for future bookings, in an attempt to woo back hesitant customers.
It’s also unlikely to be a coincidence that Air New Zealand, whose policy too is not to offer refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19, put out a media release about its compassionate refund policy just one day before the trans-Tasman travel bubble was announced.
You can join a discussion on this topic on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: QF still not budging on claimed 31 Oct 2021 resumption of non-NZ intl flts