If you were hoping to visit the land Down Under in the next year, don’t hold your breath. As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and keeps travel to a minimum, Australia’s flagship airline, Qantas, has quietly announced that it is unlikely to resume international flights before July 2021.
The statement came in light of the airline's statutory loss of $2.7 billion for the year ending on June 30, 2020. "[This] set of results [has] been shaped by extraordinary events that have made for the worst trading conditions in our 100 year history," said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce in a speech on August 20. "To put it simply, we're an airline that can't really fly to many places—at least for now,"
In July, Qantas pulled inventory for nearly all of its international flights through March 28, 2021. The move meant that while the flights were not technically canceled, they were no longer bookable, which is often seen as a precursor to full-out cancellation. (In fact, Qantas took the same steps for the majority of its international flights between mid-June and October, which were first pulled from inventory and then canceled entirely.) At the time, the only exceptions were its flights to New Zealand; as of August 2020, even those flights are on pause.
“IATA—the peak body for airlines—says it will take more than three years for global travel to return to 2019 levels,” Joyce previously stated in June. “That means all airlines— including Qantas—must take action now. We have to position ourselves for several years, where revenues will be much lower. And that means becoming a smaller airline in the short term.”
Pulling international flights is just one of several steps Qantas is taking to protect its business. The airline retired all of its Boeing 747 superjumbo jets six months earlier than scheduled, temporarily grounded its Airbus A380 superjumbo jets used for long-haul flights for at least three years, and expects to finalize 4,000 out of 6,000 layoffs by the end of September 2020. Its domestic flight capacity will be limited to 20 percent of its pre-coronavirus numbers this month.
"We know there are a lot of travel plans on hold—places you want to go, people you can't wait to see again," said Joyce. "We'll be ready to take you as soon as borders re-open, with extra safety measures on-board."
Despite Qantas pulling its international flight inventories, other airlines continue to fly to Australia, including Delta—which reinstated its Los Angeles to Sydney route on July 1—United, Qatar, and Air New Zealand (new bookings via Air New Zealand are on hold through August 28). But Australia has limited most inbound travel to citizens returning home, and anyone admitted into the country must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Qantas is not the only airline scaling back in 2021. American Airlines, too, is limiting international routes through the next year, and is currently anticipating a 25 percent reduction in long-haul flights next summer as compared to 2019. But other airlines expect a move in the other direction—Latvian carrier AirBaltic announced a 21 percent increase in its seasonal routes for next summer as compared to this one. It may be impossible to predict what happens next for the airline industry. Still, it’s likely that widespread international travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until a vaccine is developed.