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 pulled inventory for nearly all of its international flights through March 28, 2021. The move means that while the flights are not technically canceled, they are 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.) The only exceptions are its flights to New Zealand, a country that has mostly controlled its coronavirus situation, which are still bookable.
“IATA—the peak body for airlines—says it will take more than three years for global travel to return to 2019 levels,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said in a speech on June 25. “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 has 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 slashed its workforce by 20 percent. It does, however, expect that its domestic flight capacity will return to 40 percent of its pre-coronavirus numbers this month.
Despite Qantas pulling its international flight inventories, other airlines continue to fly to Australia, including Delta, which just reinstated its Los Angeles to Sydney route on July 1, United, Qatar, and Air New Zealand. 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, 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.