Qantas’ Newest Plan For Restarting International Flights

Filed Under: Qantas

Qantas has been a unique airline to watch during the pandemic, given the extent to which borders have been closed in Australia. While many international airlines (including US airlines) have continued operating to Australia with cargo and limited passengers, Qantas has more or less grounded its long haul fleet and cut its long haul network. What’s the latest on that?

Qantas delays international network reboot to October 2021

In early January Qantas opened reservations for almost its entire long haul international network for flights as of July 1, 2021. That seemed incredibly optimistic, given Australia’s strict border requirements, but the company suggests that this represented its expectation of when international travel would recover.

Unsurprisingly there has now been an update on this front, as noted by Executive TravellerQantas has now pushed back a majority of its international network reboot to October 31, 2021. This is based on the government’s belief that all Australians could be vaccinated by October.

Some short haul international flights — like those between Australia and New Zealand — still show as resuming around the middle of the year, though that can also change.

Qantas now wants to resume most international flights in October

Qantas’ fleet plan when flights resume

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but here’s Qantas’ plan as of now for when long haul international flights do resume:

  • Qantas has another three Boeing 787-9s on order that are ready to be delivered, but the airline won’t take delivery of them for now, given complete lack of need for them; the 11 currently in the fleet are sufficient, plus Qantas’ fleet of A330s
  • The three extra 787s are needed for flights to New York, Santiago, and Osaka, so those flights won’t resume even when the rest of Qantas’ international schedule does
  • A380s probably won’t be reactivated until 2024 based on when Qantas thinks demand will recover, but if it recovers earlier, the planes can be reactivated in three to six months
  • This also means that for at least the next couple of years Qantas won’t offer first class, as 787s will operate previous A380 routes, like Dallas and Los Angeles to Sydney, Sydney to London via Singapore, etc.

Qantas’ A380s likely won’t fly for a few years

Bottom line

Qantas’ current plan is to resume most long haul international flights as of the end of October 2021. This is based on the country hoping to vaccinate everyone by then, and it represents a four month delay over Qantas’ previous timeline of restarting flights at the beginning of July.

Even when the airline does resume flights, the outlook is grim. The airline has 11 Boeing 787s and 12 Airbus A380s, yet only intends to use the former aircraft for the next couple of years, along with A330s.

Personally I think Qantas is being a bit pessimistic here, and I think we’ll see the A380s reactivated a bit earlier than expected. Qantas’ biggest markets are the US and UK, and those are both countries where widespread vaccination should also be available in the coming months, and I think travel between these countries will come back in full force once borders fully reopen.

What do you make of Qantas’ latest plan for resuming long haul flights?

  1. I think Qantas are being overly optimistic unfortunately. The Australian policy of “zero COVID” is not going to be solved by a vaccination program with the current vaccines and there are already rumblings of the need to plan for extended border closures (up to 7 years is being discussed) until there is either a “100% effective vaccine” or eradication of the virus. The longer the closures extend, the less relevant Australia will become economically to anyone other than themselves, consequently driving down potential demand upon reopening. I personally would not be surprised if the A380 never flew for Qantas again.

  2. “Zero Covid” shows a clear inability to understand how a virus works. As for the 787 swap did Qantas even finish their a380 biz upgrades? How bad were their old a380 J seats. The 787 surely is an upgrade from that perspective since there are no 2-2 J configs.

  3. @ Sean M.

    That is absolute BS, as an Australian living in Perth I can say that while we generally have had a zero covid strategy (and that has been great for daily life) the government has said international travel will resume once widespread vaccination has occurred but they may say you have to have been vaccinated to leave the country and overseas tourists can’t come in unless they are vaccinated but otherwise I say this timeline from qantas is accurate if not cautious. And I have not heard any of that 7 year nonsense.

  4. @ Morgan, are you in the airline travel/industry, or are your comments based on what you read in the newspaper? I’d love to go back to Australia, so I hope Sean is wrong. But at the same time, I would wager that he is on to something.

  5. The way Sean M is framing it the zero covid policy is doomed to fail as there is no 100% effective vaccine and no total eradication of the virus.

    That shows a simple misunderstanding of how viruses work. To stay economically viable that policy has to change.

  6. @Morgan – if the “zero covid” policy remains in place, the estimate from multiple industry bodies (that include Qantas as members I should add) is that it could be 7 years before international travel to/from Australia returns without quarantines. Don’t believe me? Ask Alan Joyce himself and he’ll give you the same answer.

    The Government of Australia (and New Zealand) will soon have to make a choice. Open up borders on the basis of vaccine driven immunity and abandon “zero covid” as a policy, or keep the doors firmly shut to enjoy what is euphemistically termed as “normal life” while the rest of the world moves on with a mitigated, but non-zero, risk. You can’t have it both ways, no matter what the propaganda says.

  7. I doubt any country will seriously pursue a zero COVID policy. Once vast vaccination is achieved, there’s going to be some serious diminishing returns from closing off the borders. It would be political suicide…

  8. Don’t suppose they’ll also move my award flight for this September into the future? Too bad, Qantas hardly ever makes space available otherwise

  9. @David – I’m too blunt to be a politician myself, so I won’t pretend to know what they are thinking. I do know that it will be equally difficult to sell a reversion from “normal life without precautions” to a domestic electorate that has been fed a line that the sacrifices demanded during harsh lockdowns were a means to an end defined by “zero covid”.

    Unlike most of the world where a vaccination program is a means to a more open society relative to today as a result of increased immunity in society, the only way out for countries that have enforced “zero covid” policies is a less open society (viz. more social distancing, mask usage, etc…) than they have today. With lower levels of exposure to date and consequently lower levels of natural immunity in the population at large, those measures will be more critical otherwise there is actually enhanced risk of transmission once borders open up to vaccinated persons (who can still be carriers).

    Considering that well over half of the population don’t even travel internationally, it won’t be easy to convince them that this “step backwards” in their best interest, especially after selling them the exact opposite story all year.

    But we digress here. Bottom line is that Qantas is best placed to judge what the political climate in Australia is, but even they know that if “zero covid” is maintained for the long term, it will be closer to 2030 than 2020 before things are back to pre-pandemic levels down under.

  10. There are very few viruses if any where the world has “eradicated”. If vaccines can reduce COVID to nothing more than mild flu-like illness at worst, this should be a satisfactory goal.

    Zero covid policy may be appropriate as the world is still unvaccinated and getting sick, but as entire countries including Australia themselves get vaccinated over the next year, there’s no possible rationale to continue a policy that is impossible to achieve in the long term and would be devastating economically.

  11. Just being an optimist here, but I am betting that the “zero covid” transforms into something more reasonable as the EU/UK/Canada/US/ME populations are vaccinated and begin inter-regional travel again. Right now, there really isn’t any motivation to change as existing AU/NZ policies are producing domestic results far better than what the rest of the world is experiencing. At some point there will have to be a trade-off (safety vs. looser border restrictions encouraging tourism), but only local/national elected officials and those keeping them in office will decide when that will be. However, I would not bet on Nov 1, 2021 being that date. It is quite possible that AU/NZ as well as many other Pacific Rim countries will want to wait until northern Hemisphere winter passes to understand if and when a new winter surge of Covid erupts despite wide deployment of existing vaccines in the developed world. Many emerging nations still won’t be fully vaccinated by then, so with community spread new variants may arise causing serious hiccups. My bet is on March/April 2022, assuming the winter passes w/o too much incident.

  12. Wow! So more than half of their current widebody fleet is made up of the A380. Did Qantas retire all of their A330’s?

  13. Lucky, I would not call this the “Newest Plan For Restarting International Flights”. Qantas has no plan – just kicking the can down the road.

  14. Sean M.

    Unlike politicians who have said otherwise, I don’t know of any scientists who think that it will be possible to ever fully eradicate COVID-19, as it is so wide spread now across both the developed and developing world. The only major disease that we have eradicated is smallpox, and unlike the little changing smallpox it has already mutated thousands of times and crucially it is a virus that is able to transmit across species. All making near term eradication next to impossible.

    If they are waiting for the virus to disappear from the rest of the world then they could be isolated for a very very long time.

  15. This seems like the first plan that might actually stick. Everyone will have been offered 2 shots of the vaccine by October 31st, if all goes to plan.

    If I had to guess, and this is a complete guess. First it will be vaccinated returning Australians and new immigrants and students being allowed to self quarantine rather than going into hotel quarantine, followed by people being allowed out and back in with self quarantine before a wider opening to vaccinated visitors whatever happens is going to be very cautious. It would be nice to think my family could visit from the UK at Christmas but I find that highly unlikely.

    Bear in mind Qantas also extended the validity of vouchers another year so they are far from confident of a restart.

  16. I second Pete’s comments. Right now, “zero COVID” is in place to prevent unmitigated outbreaks. Once the risk is greatly mitigated by a vaccinated population, that mindset can change. Yes, COVID will still spread, but it won’t be a pandemic anymore.

  17. @Lucky – With no first class operating, will Qantas keep their first class lounges while the A380s are stored?

  18. I can only conclude that @Sean M.s uninformed armchair commentary at the start of these Comments, above, is purposely designed to be inflammatory.
    In spouting ignorant total trash talk he has achieved his aim I guess, while adding nothing of value to the discussion.

  19. If Australia doesn’t re-think their policy, it will be irrelevant, as Qantas will be bankrupt, along with the tourist industry in the country. People will go elsewhere, rather than be subject to super draconian travel measures….

  20. No country has done a better job at managing Covid than Australia, except maybe New Zealand. And both countries have started a vaccination program running much more smoothly than other countries. Once a sufficient t number of Australians have been vaccinated, I’m sure the country will be opened up in due course, and safely. And the reason we’ve achieved all that is because we listened to scientists and ignored anti-lockdown idiots prattling on about their “freedoms” and predicting Australia’s looming slide into irrelevancy. Y’all are the ones who have stuffed up, not us.

  21. @Fed Up, Australia doesn’t need tourists to make money and stay solvent. Our GDP isn’t reliant on tourism — and especially not fed up whinging ones like you. Please do stay away. We don’t want or need you.

  22. Ben,
    Thanks for posting this as it shows Qantas and Australia are still relevant to the former travelling “community.” Even though it is just hot air.
    I guess people can argue about Australia’s quarantine closed border strategy until the cows come home.
    Qantas is a business trying to make a profit. They aren’t an elected government. Nor is Google. Nor is Facebook. The governments here, both State and Federal must follow the advice of what the Chief Health Officers tell them. That’s how it is under our emergency legislation.
    Expecting us Australians to be like you will only end in you getting frustrated. We are us, not you.
    International travel is of no priority here at all. Before that comes returning Australians, refugees and migrants. Then overseas students. Travellers and tourists are way down in priority.
    Too bad for Qantas international operations. Pity. Their domestic operations are doing ok though.
    Meanwhile our economy is doing really well. Resources boom, agriculture boom. Top grade credit rating.

    Australians used to spend more overseas than tourism brought into this economy. Now we spend that money here in our own economy. So there is no economic imperative to reintroduce international tourism.

    Returning Australians, refugees, migrants, overseas students… then travellers way down in priority. Got it?

  23. Spot on Glenn T.

    As someone not living in Australia, it’s pretty evident Sean M isn’t getting any information from Australia as his comments bear no relation to reality.

  24. Do remember that QF is a domestic airline with less than 20% of it revenue from the international division. Once they have their domestic operation fully up and running the profits will pour in though maybe not as much as pre Covid.

  25. Jetstar (the Qantas affiliate) just released results of their Australian customer survey.
    Top destinations are Cairns and Gold Coast.
    60% want to go to places in Australia they haven’t visited before.
    48% want to go see family/friends.
    33% want to go international “when it is deemed safe”.
    NZ is top international destination. Jetstar used to do Vietnam/Thailand/Singapore/indonesia (Bali) /USA(Honolulu) /Japan … but all we want is NZ, and that’s only 33% of us repondents.

    Hope this puts things better into perspective.

    New York Times just reported the “New York variant” B.1.526. Bigger and better than all the rest!… spreads faster, vaccine resistant ! … and best of all, as we expect from the USA, they want it all… yes folks, they have the the UK variant, the South African variant AND the Brazil variant … all circulating in friendly New York. Come on guys, let’s get close in NYC and see what we can get!

    Don’t expect Qantas to fly tourists into and out of USA any time soon. We don’t want what you’ve got. That’s why borders remain shut.

    Qantas wrote off the value of many of its aircraft in this reporting season. Those tax losses can be used against any future profits. Effectively the company won’t pay tax for many years to come, yet still fly the aircraft.

    Ben, last you mentioned here, you , Ford and your pet dog all went to Germany to make a new life there. We heard in the news about Germany going into lockdown and that’s been for months now… and months… and we’ve heard how Germany is using “Science” in defeating the virus, but they are all stuck inside and their infection numbers stay high. For months now. Just wondering what happened to you guys and where you are now?

    You used to tell us about all your travels with such zeal. But now all we get are stories about credit cards. And regular updates on how Australia’s borders are shut. Or how someone on a flight behaved badly. Is this how you envisaged your website to be? You used to cherish it. What happened?

  26. See, this is exactly why it becomes difficult to have conversations on this issue with Australians who think that they have it all figured out and anyone who questions them just doesn’t get it.

    It is a fact that “zero COVID” is a policy of the Australian (and NZ) governments.

    It is a fact that “zero COVID” is incompatible with any form of free international circulation.

    It is a fact that in order to reopen borders without quarantines, the “zero COVID” policy will need to be abandoned, given that current vaccines do not provide 100% protection.

    It is a fact that abandoning “zero COVID” even under a vaccine regime will either result in more social restrictions than currently exist, or alternatively an increase of symptomatic community cases than currently exist (viz. zero).

    It is a fact that Governments will be faced with that decision sometime later this year. Leaving aside anti-vaxxers, can the Governments sell it to a population, which judging by the commentary here believes that the sun shines out of their arse, that reopening borders for the <20% of Australians that travel abroad annually and visitors, is a valid tradeoff for giving up those same "life is normal" freedoms that people endured lockdowns to maintain last year. It won't be an easy sell, and Governments are usually loathe to take tough decisions.

    Bottom line – the stated policies of the Government have to change before Qantas has any sort of commercial viability for their international operations. Will they change? Probably so, eventually. There is plenty of grey area between the two extremes and most Governments have found the shade that suits them both scientifically and politically. What that is and how long that eventually takes is for the politicians to figure out. I'm just stating the consequences both of change, and lack thereof.

    Australia and NZ have done a great job of controlling the pandemic, but that is all it is. A short-term control mechanism that has to either evolve or have longer term consequences. It may just be that they have delayed the inevitable and a year from now the rest of the world will be watching stories about the emergency COVID triage center at the MCG after a player at the Australian Open imported the lethal new Mongolian strain. It may be that by the time they do eventually open up, the pandemic has dissipated to the point that it is no longer a significant threat. Time will tell.

    Finally – no, I'm no living in Australia but I have plenty of experience over the past year working with airlines, industry bodies and Governments around the world on safe reopening policies. So I do know what I'm talking about. The antipodes are not any different from anywhere else. And believe me when I say that Qantas management is on the same page. They just can't say it publicly without having people like you lot jump on them.

  27. @Sean M this antipodean is much more comfortable with our Covid-19 policies than those of nations who have prioritised so-called individual rights over community compassion.
    Could you kindly advise your verified sources for travel statistics for Australians as my cursory investigations with the ABS are not matched by your assertions.

  28. Qantas , like some in this forum are trying to predict the future. In order to do that, we could look at recent relevant history.
    As each new virus variant of concern was deemed dangerous we’ve seen borders across the world closing in. We’ve seen countries locked down again for months.

    Just yesterday New York Times reported variant of concern B.1.526. It is called the New York Variant. It appears to be more infectious than other variants. It causes greater illness. It appears to be vaccine resistant.
    If this virus variant spreads as did the UK , the South African and Brazil variants, we can expect to see border closures for longer periods.

  29. @Carrie – ABS statistics (as far as I am aware) provide the actual number of departures, not the actual number of persons who depart (as many people travel multiple times). Therefore, while ABS statistics show around 0.35 international departures per capita, using MIDT and PaxIS data we can approximate this to around 0.2 persons per capita who actually travel internationally each year. In either case though, we know that it is well below 0.5 per capita.

    And I am not saying that Australia and NZ have made the wrong choice, especially relative to most “developed” Western nations who have bungled this terribly by trying to be everything to everyone. I’m just saying that to expect the pseudo-utopian conditions that presently exist to continue ad infinitum is not realistic and that there will need to be social changes if and when borders do open under a vaccination regime to replace the “zero covid” policy. This could have significant impact on the demand curve for travel in a recovery scenario, and consequently upon Qantas’ timeline for returning parked long haul aircraft to service.

  30. I think Sean M. is right on the mark.

    As a Kiwi, I think that NZ has certainly been living in a bubble. I don’t know that it’s that hard to manage such a small, Westernised population when you shut the world out (I think the adulation has been over-stated).

    Sooner or later both countries are going to have to accept the bubble can’t last forever and that covid will be a part of all our lives for many years to come.

  31. @SeanM
    No, you’re wrong: Australia does not have, never has had, a zero Covid policy ( NZ went for it); indeed, there has been a recognition in Australia that there is no chance of such a policy working ( at least without total isolation). The policy was to essentially buy time to prevent the healthcare system being overwhelmed and to minimize the death toll. That policy has had 2 hopes: first that the virus would ‘burn out’ in a short period ( as SARS did) and/or a vaccine would become universally available in a time frame that made the border closures/travel constraints acceptable ,economically and socially.
    The measures , though painful , have enjoyed wide public support. The economy is bouncing back, the healthcare system was never under any great strain. The borders will start to reopen over the next 6-9 months, assuming none of the variants proves resistant to vaccines.

  32. @SeanM
    Thank you for providing such an excellent summary.

    As an American, I can only say rightly or wrongly, our country has chosen a vastly different path than AU. The past year cannot be undone. We can only focus on our current and future options. I fully expect that vaccines will never be a blanket panacea. In our country Covid is here to stay at some level of spread. Winter surges will be inevitable. The goal is to vastly reduce infection rates and attendant hospitalizations and deaths. But I expect that we likely won’t achieve either extreme repression or eradication for extended periods anytime in the foreseeable future. How will countries like AU deal with that? From the sounds of it here, many are happy to restriction entry for us for quite some time. So I, as a traveler, have pretty much written off going to AU any time in the next few years. So be it, pointing fingers doesn’t do any good. I will focus on traveling to other parts of the world.

  33. @Sean, the reason you find it so difficult to discuss these issues with Australians is because we’ve spent the last year listening and following the advice of real scientists, and not listening to ideologues like you who use data for propaganda. Look at where that has gotten us so far. And look at how your country is doing by comparison.

  34. @Derek – I’m not sure what you mean by “my country”. The country I was most closely involved with the reopening of is Ghana, where the population size is similar to Australia (30m v 25m), there were initial lockdowns and domestic movement restrictions in March and April, and border closures in place until September.

    However, when borders reopened under a two-test protocol regime there was an acknowledgement that the goal was to achieve 99.4% accuracy (not 100%) and to ensure that the rate of imported infections remained below that of local transmission. To date, Ghana has recorded 594 deaths = 19 per million (relative to Australia’s 909 = 35 per million and the USA’s 1571 per million) and the two-test protocol system has received widespread acclaim for doing its job successfully of preventing significant numbers of imported infections. Additionally, Ghana saw GDP growth of 1.5% in 2020 relative to Australia’s contraction by 6.7%.

    So I think at the bare minimum, there should be acknowledgement from Australians that while their way of doing things certainly may have worked well for them, other countries have also been able to improvise data driven solutions that have enabled their own acceptable levels of risk mitigation to be successfully implemented. And I’m using that experience, including the experience of forecasting the air traffic recovery demand curve there, to share what I think is a possible/likely scenario for Australia as well.

  35. Sean M:

    It seems to me like you might think about contacting the Prime Minister of Australia’s office (Scott Morrison is the PM) to see if they would be interested in hiring you as a consultant. Australia could really use your insight into how best to deal with Covid and properly opening up their country. Apparently the Aussies who are responding to you in this blog just don’t have a grasp on the true reality of Covid and how their lockdown is completely destroying their society. The same apparent insanity also probably goes for the 85 to 90% of Aussies who support the Australian federal and state government’s response to the crisis, according to a December 2020 article from the Guardian. You can be their enlightener.

  36. @JBR – I’m not here to tell Aussies or anyone else what they should do. I’m just predicting the consequences of it. 🙂

  37. As an Australian, slightly perplexed at everyone else commenting they are Australian claiming Australia does not have an elimination strategy. @SeanM is right; we do.

    While the official line from the federal govt is suppression, actions speak louder than words. All the State Premiers (except NSW) have been enacting elimination regimes despite what they might say to the Prime Minister.

    Fully agree SeanM, at some point Australia is going to have to make a decision to either continue on its 0 risk strategy or allow some risk. And, given Australian governments have spent the better part of the last 12 months intentionally spreading fear and anxiety, largely as part of local election strategies, and we’re now facing increasing vaccine hesitancy because of the stuffed up the comms, I also see it’s going to be difficult for governments to transition to a risk accepted state of affairs.

  38. @ Nick
    You’ve been sipping the Alan Jones/Craig Kelly/Pete Evans/SkyNews Kool-Aid. No Australian Premier or senior health official has ever contemplated or canvassed an elimination strategy. It’s not feasible now and never really has been ( and certainly not without far more draconian lockdowns than those seen to date).
    It has all been about containment and minimizing spread: via identification , testing, isolation, contact tracing, treatment and now vaccination.
    Of course the constraints on movement, inbound and -out are resented, as are the restrictions on movement and commercial activity within the country.
    The ‘doom and gloom’ merchants would have us believe that the damage to the economy has been devastating, possibly terminal. While it is undoubtedly true that many small businesses like cafes/restaurants/ pubs…and many others…have suffered terribly, they have been supported in a variety of ways. They are bouncing back now, and the broader economy is going gangbusters.
    People often cite damage to inbound tourism as a problem: but that’s a net gain to the economy as Australians spend AUD 20 billion ( USD 16b) more on overseas travel each year than total receipts from inbound international visitors. That money is being spent within the country , eg the record retail sector profits ( although that doesn’t help airlines, some hotels and other operators with an international clientele).
    Australians are not going to tolerate closed borders for a millisecond longer than necessary ( …and the ‘necessary’ isn’t going to be some distant date pulled out of his arse by the creepy huckster/cronies in Canberra, against whom the tide has started to turn).

  39. As the carrier has just announced a loss of a billion dollars, announcing an October date to restart international operations, people are anxious to start travelling again and a cash injection is just what the doctor ordered even though the start date hasn’t been given Australian government approval as yet, let’s hope that this does happen but what about inbound ? The digital vaccine passport may work, but for how long before the country is closed again.

  40. Agreed Paolo, Sean m’s very first “fact” is wrong.

    Nick acknowledges as such, but then tries to say it is one anyway. So yeah, if people make up their own facts… well, we know how that goes.

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