Qantas to restart flights to UK, US and other 'Covid-safe' destinations by Christmas

The Australian airline is also returning its A380 superjumbo to service earlier than anticipated on flights to Los Angeles and London

Qantas plans to restart international flights to the UK, the US, Canada, Japan and Singapore by the end of 2021. Photo: Qantas
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Australian airline Qantas plans to restart flights to several destinations around the world before the end of 2021.

Having grounded most of its international fleet since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, Qantas is now eyeing its return to the skies.

The airline initially plans to begin flying to what it is calling “Covid-safe destinations”. This means places that have high vaccination rates and includes North America, the UK, Singapore and Japan.

Qantas is also banking on the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand restarting sooner rather than later, with flights for these destinations on sale from mid-December 2021.

All of the restart plans hinge on the Australian government's policy on opening international borders, said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.

“It’s obviously up to the government exactly how and when our international borders reopen, but with Australia on track to meet the 80 per cent trigger agreed by National Cabinet by the end of the year, we need to plan ahead for what is a complex restart process.”

This plan prioritises resuming flights to destinations in the UK, North America and to parts of Asia, which Qantas says are likely to be “classed as low-risk countries for vaccinated travellers to visit and return from under reduced quarantine requirements”.

The plan also depends on whether or not the Australian government will relax quarantine rules in Australia, and on the entry policies of other countries.

“Levels of travel demand – and therefore, capacity levels – will hinge largely on government decisions on alternative requirements to mandatory hotel isolation for fully vaccinated travellers,” said a statement from the airline.

Delayed restarts for Bali, Manila, Bangkok and Johannesburg

Other destinations that have low vaccination rates and high levels of Covid-19 cases will not have Qantas or Jetstar routes restarted before April 2022.

This applies to Indonesia, where Bali, which is a popular holiday destination from Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and South Africa. Flights to Hong Kong are on the schedule to restart in February.

Despite the optimism for international flights resuming, Joyce warned that he expected New South Wales and Victoria to remain shut off from the rest of Australia for a longer period of time.

“The prospect of flying overseas might feel a long way off, especially with New South Wales and Victoria in lockdown, but the current pace of the vaccine roll-out means we should have a lot more freedom in a few months’ time.

An early return for the world's largest passenger jet

Despite “diabolical conditions” during the pandemic, Qantas is bringing some of its A380 superjumbos back to service earlier than expected.

Five of the world’s largest passenger jets, which have been in storage since 2020, will return to Australia to satisfy passenger demand for travel to Los Angeles and London.

Qantas will return the double-decker jets on its Sydney to Los Angeles route from July 2022, and to London via Singapore from November next year.

“The A380s work well on these long-haul routes when there’s sufficient demand, and the high vaccination rates in both markets would underpin this.”

In total, Qantas will bring 10 superjumbos back to service by 2024, each with upgraded interiors. Two of the airline’s A380s will be retired for good.

Joyce outlined the airline's restart plans during a media briefing on Qantas' full-year results, which saw the airline group record a $1.7 billion loss.

“Some people might say we’re being too optimistic, but based on the pace of the vaccine roll-out, this is within reach and we want to make sure we’re ready,” said Joyce.

Seeing vaccines as the way out of the pandemic, last week, Qantas became the latest airline to require Covid-19 vaccinations for all staff, setting a November deadline for flight crew to be double jabbed.

Air Canada has also joined the growing number of airlines requiring staff to be fully vaccinated, while US airline Delta has announced plans to impose a $200 per month surcharge on unvaccinated employees making use of the company health plan.

Updated: August 26, 2021, 7:30 AM