What Australia’s Government Says About International Travel Resuming

Filed Under: Qantas

Perhaps any optimism in Australia reopening its borders in the coming months was misplaced.

Qantas’ international flights are on sale

As I wrote about yesterday, Qantas kicked off 2021 by opening reservations for most of its international flight network as of July 1, 2021. Not only that, but the airline has also contacted crews to inform them that they’d soon restart training in anticipation of this.

A Qantas spokesperson said that this reflected the carrier’s expectation that international travel would restart around July 2021. Suffice to say that this caught many of us off guard:

  • Australia has among the tightest entry requirements of any country, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a monitored facility
  • While some people will be vaccinated by July, it’s questionable whether there would be enough to make flights commercially viable
  • Even with vaccinations taking place, it could be quite a long time before the government actually changes entry requirements

I assumed that Qantas executives knew something I didn’t, and that perhaps they even consulted with the government. After all, they put together a detailed schedule with a specific start date, and even planned on recalling crews. Qantas’ timeline gave me hope for international travel opening up on a widespread basis.

Well, it appears that hope may have been unfounded.

Qantas plans to resume international flights in July 2021

What Australia’s government says

The office of the Deputy Prime Minster, Michael McCormack, issued the following statement about Qantas’ international ticket sales:

The health and safety of Australians remains the Morrison-McCormack Government’s top priority, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said.

International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians.

Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government.

The Australian Government is working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections.

Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines.

To be clear, I wouldn’t expect the government to definitively say that widespread international travel will open as of a certain date, when a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand can’t even be figured out.

At the same time, it sure sounds to me like we’re nowhere close to Australia opening up borders to anything other than travel bubbles, and that the government was likely caught off guard by Qantas’ announcement as well.

We shouldn’t expect to travel to Australia anytime soon

What should we make of this?

Admittedly any sort of international schedule planning at airlines is an impossible task nowadays, given the rate at which things change. However, I think most of us can agree that Qantas’ timeline seemed highly optimistic.

There are a few possible explanations for this:

  • Qantas thinks it can make sense to bring back most of its international flying without much passenger demand, but rather with a focus on cargo; many other airlines have done this fairly successfully
  • Qantas is essentially trying to get an interest free loan for selling tickets to consumers, for flights it knows it likely won’t be able to operate
  • Qantas has a very different take on when Australia will reopen its borders compared to the government and most of the rest of us

Prior to Qantas’ announcement I would have speculated that Australia may reopen on a widespread basis in late 2021 or early 2022, and with this statement from the Australian government, I’m back to thinking that’s a more realistic timeline.

Bottom line

Qantas has put most of its international route network on sale for flights as of July 2021. Executives at the airline claim that this aligns with when they think international travel will return, though Australia’s government seems to have a different take, at least as of now.

When do you think we’ll see Australia open its borders on a widespread basis, at least to those who are vaccinated?

  1. Cash grab by Qantas. Almost no chance these routes operate as planned. I think mid 2022 before Australia opens up

  2. The Australian government has set a precedent. The fact that they panic over a so-called “outbreak” of less than 10 infections means I don’t expect borders to be widely open for many years. It seems the government wants to wait until every last case of coronavirus disappears off the face of the planet. This goes for NZ as well.

  3. Other airlines have been selling tickets most probably knowing full well that those tickets will have to be changed/rebooked. Lufthansa has had some very nice business class tickets to Australia on ANA’s new suites.
    Qantas wants in on these interest free loans and that’s all. Though it’s possible that Australia can get most of it’s citizens vaccinated by June this year given how many vaccines it had ordered and is going to get. So i truly hope that we can travel to Australia this year.
    mmhh…. i might give those LH offers another look.

  4. At least Qantas will refund eventually. As will most ailrines selling fake flights

    Air Canada sells fake flights, doesnt cancel them until close in, and then steals your money and gives you a useless voucher

  5. @Dennis,

    Considering 15 initial cases in the US has led to 300K+ deaths, their “panic” is completely legitimate despite what your blasé attitude may lead to believe.

  6. Qantas could very well operate the flights, primarily focusing on cargo and transporting any passengers who are eligible. Those who booked non-refundable fares would be SOL for a refund since the flight would end up flying, they’re just ineligible or don’t want to go.

  7. Australia has the right to restrict their borders, their country. They’ve taken a rather aggressive approach vs other countries though, but I honestly don’t see them opening back up fully til 2022.

  8. It seems obvious that Qantas is focussing on the vaccination. By July most of their large markets (US, Far East, UK) will have a a large portion of their population vaccinated. Qantas also announced that being vaccinated will be a requirement for international travel.

  9. @Dennis, the current outbreak in Australia was 10 cases in one day and more than 10 cases on many other days before and after. Your comment is a bald faced lie and is typical of the anti-lock down freaks who would rather see hundreds of thousands of cases a day, and thousands of deaths a day, all in the name of having the “freedom” to continue your first world over privileged lifestyle.

  10. For the record, the Federal government have not closed state borders, they don’t have the power (I never knew that). It is the state government who closed borders.
    It’s tough. I live in Melbourne. Went through the tough lockdown all whilst watching UK and US travel all over the place. Whilst we currently have a small outbreak, we know via genomic sequencing that they are part of the one cluster and the list of exposure sites is long, so hopefully they will close it down soon.
    I find it really odd that people here who aren’t from Australia feel the need to mock and ridicule us, especially when friends I have in the US and UK who are Drs are telling me how horrendously overloaded the hospital systems are. Don’t get me wrong Australia’s medical system is not perfect. I mean my FREE Covid test post a trip to Sydney, meant I queued for 15 minutes and had to wait 36 hours for the result. The SLA was 24 hours.

  11. Unfortunately Australia has a freak-show federal government led by a sleazy Trump fan. He has presided over a series of COVID policy disasters, including failure to control borders for cruise ship passengers ( resulting in infections as far afield as Canada and the USA), and gross mismanagement of aged care facilities. The real COVID success stories have been at state level ( involving govts of both major parties)
    The public is starting to lose patience with the national government over perceived delays in vaccine approvals and rollout; and particularly so in the context of confusing , inconsistent and contradictory timelines. Little wonder QANTAS has started to push.

  12. Early to mid 2022 depending on the vaccine? Well we still don’t know:
    Well it stop you getting Covid or a milder form of it? If you are vaccinated can you still carry and infect others? What variant of Covid does the vaccine protect you from, one or all? Will the vaccine have to be given yearly or less frequent? We are only going to know this is time goes by.

  13. @Sam, it’s not going to be about Australians getting vaccinated, the government will want incoming travellers from other other countries (including Aus citizens) to be vaccinated. That will take years.

    @Justin, @derek, and others – I wasn’t arguing for or against it, I was just posting an observation that the Aus government is being ultra-cautious. And where other countries have waited for 1000s of cases, Australia locks down when there is a handful. This behaviour doesn’t lend itself to the thought of open borders any time soon.

  14. We still don’t have enough data to know how effective the vaccine is at preventing transmission. I assume Australia will follow the lead of many elder care facilities and stay mostly closed until overall population vaccine targets have been hit.

    That being said, they may open up partially and allow categories of non-citizen residents that weren’t previously allowed in to start repatriating, so there may still be a steady amount of international demand.

  15. The government’s own vaccine timeline is to have almost all of the population vaccinated by the end of 2021. McCormack isn’t someone you should be taking word for word as half the time he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

    As for cash grab by Qantas, they refund fares they cancel themselves. If the borders are not open and flights do not operate, they would be putting themselves in financial pain having to refund all those tickets. They are such a risk adverse airline that they would cancel the flights rather than see them go out empty (unlike others).

    Their financial position has always been that they would ground international potentially until the end of 2021 – and they took out cash and other loans in order to be able to do that. Pulling forward their schedule signals that they have some confidence that there will be some travel from Q3 onwards.

  16. I’m prepared to rebook my October 2020 Tasmania and New Zealand Adventure at the beginning of 2022 for January 2023. I think early or mid 2022 is a good estimate for reopening.

    Fingers crossed I can get my SYD-AUH-JFK in apartments rebooked!

  17. I do believe Australia can vaccinate whole population including newborns by June 2021. However it looks they do not trust the vaccine but they do believe in isolation and closing borders. Obviously they can choose whatever path they want but its clear there will be no tourists for long time. Not sure if the business can survive with domestic tourists but its not our problem. Personally I don’t believe Qantas will start to fly internationally before mid 2022.

  18. @Rob
    As I understand it ( although it hasn’t been articulated), the concern is that the mutations spreading may make mass vaccination less successful …particularly in respect of the South African variant. Hence the ‘wait and watch’ concurrent with border closures. The public would accept that logic…but NOT in the context of exemptions for billionaires, tennis players, faux celebrities/film stars, petrol heads and Liberal Party cronies.
    That said…just this minute…they changed the rollout timetable again, back to early March, probably because of public frustration.

  19. I do not understand why they are being so slow to let people in. I have been trying to go for a long visit with my boyfriend since last June. Now with the quarantine that takes care of the problem but still my visa is processing. When we are willing to play by the unfair rules they still don’t reciprocate. Quarantine is like prison too! My boyfriend still can’t leave to come to the states or anywhere else we can meetup. Isn’t that a violation of his human rights? Australia is holding it’s citizens prisoner. Amnesty international should be fighting this. If we want to chance getting ill and risk death to be together it is our business. This has to stop it is torture for couples to be forced to stay apart.

  20. Comment by @Paolo (his first, above, while quite colourful is correct! The Deputy PM in charge of the Covid thing is a completely unqualified country bumpkin of less than average intellect.
    The public is tired of the perpetual drift in setting a target date for re-opening the country. Qantas, with a vested interest, is testing the waters, or at least stimulating discussion so they can plan ahead. I guess July 1 is a pretty arbitrary date, and is unlikely to happen.
    We will need to see widespread vaccination worldwide which is simply not happening right now. There are various ‘bubbles’ being floated but it seems beyond this hopeless government to actually get any operative. AUS/NZ has been on/off so many times I’ve lost count. And that is the easy one!

  21. I’m amazed by the criticisms of Australia’s approach here. Most Australians are thankful to be living here at this time and to have proactive governments and strong public health systems.

    Yes, our governments have not always got every moment right but overall they are doing well to contain (we are not going for elimination, that has never been the policy – don’t mistake us for New Zealand) the situation that is well out of control in Europe, the UK and the US. We may lose a few ‘freedoms’ here and there but at least we do not have hundreds of thousands dying and hospital workers being told to refuse help to those who are statistically less likely to make it (California is a disaster). Not much point being free if one is dead.

    Qantas ultimately made a business move that was motivated by their needs, not seemingly by any information from the federal government. They were well and truly ‘slapped down’ yesterday. I think Alan Joyce needs to remember that he isn’t the Prime Minister of Australia. From time to time he seems to put his nose into the public arena when I’d argue he best stick to managing his business.

    That said, I do think a tourism sector assistance program is going to be needed as the Jobkeeper and Jobseeker payments wind up soon. The industry has suffered greatly and with international travel starting sometime in 2022, there needs to be better support.

  22. AussieBen,

    Although “contain” is the stated policy, the policy in practice is elimination. That is why the moment there are non-zero cases, there is a massive reaction, and lockdowns implemented after a few cases. If you were satisfied with containment, this number of cases would be acceptable as it is manageable, but every time the reaction is to lockdown until elminated.

  23. I am an Aussie from QLD (known for a premier who slams the border shut when someone coughs in Sydney). Other states have slammed the borders shut on short notice leaving 1000’s of their residents stranded and can’t get home. Hotspots are declared and if you live in the wrong post code, you can be forced to isolate for 14 days if there is a case in your post code, regardless of your own activity. Theoretically I could have a trip, wedding, family event booked and planned. Some stranger who lives in my post code whom I never heard of let alone contacted went to the pub a few nights ago and turns up positive Covid. Now I am locked down to my suburb, plans ruined through no fault of my own, even if I hadn’t been out in the last dew days. Is this fair? Hell no! People are being punished because of other people’s transgressions. Another thing I should mention is the onerous $3000 mandatory hotel quarantine. Cash. Not points, not miles, cash. 14 days locked in a hotel room cell with crappy food and drink. No option for home quarantine with tracking bracelets. It happened that in the early days, people did not serve the home quarantine and therefore hotel quarantine was invented. Everyone gets punished because of a few people. Fairness would be to throw the book at the transgressors – $20,000 fines, passport loss for 6 months per offense, things that would really hurt. Then trust the rest of us who would follow the rules to serve our 14 days at home where we can be comfortable and cater for ourselves. The longer this drags on, the more people will break the rules because there is no reward for following the rules (you still suffer because of other people’s actions) and the current fines ($4000ish) seem to be in a few people’s budget so they are willing to risk it. You will get a lot of opinions on an internationally read blog. I know people think that most Aussies are happy with the rules but many are not but are basically having to shut up because no one will listen. Once someone is vaccinated they should be allowed to travel as they wish. Especially after most of the country is vaccinated. Even if the vaccine reduces the virus to a common cold but you can still spread it, who cares? You are spreading a weak, non-fatal disease like a common cold! Has happened for centuries and somehow life goes on. Are they going to keep us locked up forever? Yes I am dying to travel (legally) once I am vaccinated and so are many others. And before people jump in and call me selfish, I am more than happy to drive my own car home from the airport, contact no one, sit at home alone (no visitors) for 14 days with groceries I bought before the trip so I am no threat to anyone.

  24. Thankfully the conservative government in Australia and state of NSW (especially accepting the majority of international entry’s into the country) has done a marvelous job. I shudder to think what would have happened with labor at the wheel. e.g Chairman Dan the disaster.

  25. @Mh

    It most certainly is a policy and practice of containment, not elimination, in Australia. With each outbreak, the governments and health systems seek to reduce the numbers to minimal levels. Partial lockdowns are sometimes needed to prevent single digit numbers from turning into hundreds and thousands.

    If it was a policy and practice of elimination, then we would have hard national lockdown and testing for all. That was discussed, but deemed impossible to achieve and maintain long term. In a global environment where trade and some level of migration/passage must continue, containment just wasn’t viable.

  26. @Wannatravel,

    The short notice border closures are certainly a frustration, I’ll agree with you there. I do wish we had a uniform policy on this coordinated by all states, territories and Canberra. It would give greater certainty to domestic travellers, airlines, tourism operators and interstate businesses.

    I too am eager to travel again, but like most Australians I am willing to wait until it is safer to do so and take guidance from health authorities and governments. People grumble from time to time, but the overwhelming majority are doing what is right and necessary.

    Even if our government said you could travel, where would you go? So many places are ravaged by COVID and things people would normally see and do overseas are closed. There’s little value travelling under these circumstances. Even if you were vaccinated, you can still carry and transfer the virus to others who may not yet be vaccinated.

    Once the majority of people are vaccinated and health systems stabilise, you’ll find travel slowly resume.

  27. @AussieBen

    Yeah I should have specified that a lot of my frustration is the people who are saying that the vaccine is not enough. I read a lot of blogs and forums and some people are saying that hotel quarantine should continue for a couple years after the vaccines are done, which is driving me nuts! I actually think the vaccine rollout will move smoothly, especially once the AstraZeneca one is available which can be given at GPs and pharmacies ( no freezing needed). If they are saying whole country vaccinated by October, I would expect that the bulk of people who want it for travel should be done by July which is when QF is offering flights. The main countries I want to go to also have vaccine programs in progress. I am confident they would be good to go around the same time Aussies are vaccinated. But waiting for the whole world to be vaccinated is ridculous! Vaccinated traveler from A goes to B where people of both countries are vaccinated. Who cares about countries C, D, E if we are not going there? We need some king of “yellow card” that is forgery proof, maybe linked to our passports for international and Medicare cards for non-travellers. Have some kind of international target from WHO like once 70% of your citizens are vaccinated, you get a “green light” or whatever. Green lights can go to any other green light.

  28. @Justin the population differences between U.S. & Australia are huge so it’s doubtful and probably not possible that Australia would have anywhere near 300k reported Covid deaths.

  29. Qantas is trying to push a business decision, but hasn’t given any rationale . The government has given a warning that international travel won’t happen soon because there is a pandemic. The government has followed advice from the WHO and Federal/State and Territory Chief Medical Officers. The WHO gives no indication of an end point to this pandemic, nor do any of our Chief Medical Officers. Presumably that puts Qantas in a situation of selling a service which people here probably can’t use. That would have legal ramifications for the company in terms of the board of directors for allowing such a decision.

  30. Some of us want to travel overseas not for holidays but to see our loved ones ( partners , parents , children etc ) and we have been patient for almost 12 months coming up . It is important to remember Australia is country where many migrants have settled and as circumstances have it families spread globally . The impact of separation from loved ones on Mental Health must be considered by the government . Then also there is that lost commodity no one is talking about called ” TIME ” which we cannot gain back. Shutting borders / international travel ban should not be considered a long term option and the government should have invested the last 10 months in increasing quarantine facilities , and putting in rapid testing , test before flight etc .
    So I applaud Qantas for bringing this on .. Someone has to push that button . Patience may be a virtue but it does wear thin after a prolonged period .

  31. “The government has followed advice from the WHO…”

    Here’s what the WHO currently states about travel restrictions – no judgement, just a quote:

    “In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions. Furthermore, restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries. However, in certain circumstances, measures that restrict the movement of people may prove temporarily useful, such as in settings with few international connections and limited response capacities.

    Travel measures that significantly interfere with international traffic may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time, even if only a few days, to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions must be based on a careful risk assessment, be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves.”

  32. Florian,
    The travel advice you are quoting is dated 17th Feb 2020. Quite a lot has changed since then. The WHO has updated their travel advice: the latest being 30th July 2020. In essence their advice now is rather less reassuring:
    “Each country should conduct a risk-benefit analysis and decide on its priorities.”
    (Which could be interpreted as “Every man for himself”)

    There will be (yet) another Australian National Cabinet meeting this Friday. Repatriation rules are due to be discussed. This will be in the light of the faster preading variant from the UK.

    Travel bubbles, international leisure travel etc. seem to be discussions from a bygone era, even if dated just a few days ago. That’s how fast this pandemic is developing in terms of viral mutations.

    Ben, you haven’t mentioned the situation you are in personally. Last mention was a hotel stay in Germany. Now Germany is in lockdown, and that lockdown has been extended. Or have you moved back to USA? It appears the USA has evolved quite markedly lately in terms of case numbers and speed of infection as have many other countries. It continues to surprise me the sheer number of articles you have posted about Australia during this pandemic, given that few can travel here, our low population, and the lesser number of articles you used to post about Australia before the pandemic. Any reason for your pandemic new found interest in our country?

  33. Its okay with opening border on july first for all international travelers but what about one way travellers like person who returning to their own country from Australia (who are not comes under exception criteria)?

  34. Wicked government why should they block airport since why now, even seasonal holiday worker can’t come in why now. YOU WANT TO SPOIL THE WORK OF TRAVEL AGENCY WORK FOR THE NOT TO EAT WHEN YOU BLOCK YOUR airport since.

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