It seems that Qantas is standing firm on the resumption date for the majority of its international services despite the Australian Government abandoning its 2021 COVID-19 vaccination targets after the vaccine turmoil last week. The October 31 resumption date remains over five months away. But as airlines everywhere have learned, a lot can change in five months.
When the Australian Government abandoned its vaccination targets last Monday, the focus swiftly switched to Qantas’ international flight plans. Over Tuesday, Qantas said it was keeping an eye on things but so far, saw no reason to change its timelines.
Some doubt met the Qantas stance. After all, it had previously announced a July 2021 resumption date and started selling tickets. Later, the July date was pushed back to October 31. Traders are certainly doubtful, with subsequent widespread shorting of the Qantas stock price on the ASX on Tuesday.
With COVID-19 levels consistently running at close to zero across Australia, the travel bubble with New Zealand beginning next week, and vaccinations continuing (albeit at a slower rate than originally forecast), the general mood is shifting slightly regarding Australia’s closed borders. That mood will not see border changes next month. But perhaps towards the end of the year?
Qantas international operations has always been among the least profitable of Qantas’ multiple divisions. But those long-range international flights are a core part of the Qantas identity. They also keep around 7,000 Qantas employees in work. Most of those employees remain furloughed. The Australian Government is making some financial assistance available to them. But that is slated to end in September.
Getting those planes and workers back in the air is high on Qantas’ agenda. Hiccups on vaccination rollouts, five months ahead of a targeted date, may not change Qantas mind.
Qantas has flights for sale from October 31 to 22 of its 25 pre-COVID international destinations. Initially, the airline plans to delay resuming flights to New York, Santiago, and Osaka. However, when announcing this, Qantas said it remained committed to these three destinations.
In addition, Qantas’ low-cost subsidiary, Jetstar, also plans to restart flights to all of its 13 international destinations from October 31.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said, “taking people where they wanted to fly and leveraging partnerships and aircraft arrangements”. The Qantas boss also thinks people are becoming increasingly confident about travelling. But that confidence is not necessarily translating into international flight bookings post-October 31.
While many people are hopeful about international travel resuming and happy enough to board a plane, putting down cash or points right now for a future international flight is another matter entirely. Given the problems with cancellations and delays in procuring refunds, anecdotal evidence suggests most travellers, are extremely reluctant to do so.
Qantas may be happy to stick with October 31 for the time being. But few travellers are confident enough to put down money right now for an international flight later this year.
By Joe Cusmano