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A Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner pulling into the gate at JFK. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Shaquille Khan)

Qantas Halts International Flights Through December

Qantas Airways announced on Wednesday that it would be forced to halt any current and planned international flights until at least the end of the year. Australia’s national carrier said that the sudden decision was mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the country’s newly revised anticipated timeline for the completion of the vaccination rollout — currently set for the end of this year — and with the timelines for the reopening of Australia’s international borders to mid-2022.

Despite having offered the whole of Australia’s adult population a vaccination, supply shortages and vaccine hesitancy have slowed the rollout.

The federal government has also said that it will only reopen Australia’s borders once it is safe to do so, taking into account vaccination rates and coronavirus infection risks globally. Recent surges in Covid-19 infections in countries such as India, Japan and Singapore were also factors in the decision.

The airline had hoped to help Australians travel abroad to government-approved destinations such as London, Los Angeles and Singapore as soon as October, but that timeline has been pushed back.

“We remain optimistic that additional bubbles will open once Australia’s vaccine rollout is complete to countries who, by then, are in a similar position, but it’s difficult to predict which ones at this stage,” Qantas said in a statement published May 12. The only exception for international flights is currently operating between Australia and New Zealand.

This planning decision will allow Qantas, as well as Australia, to be ready to take advantage of pockets of tourism and trade opportunities as they emerge in a post-Covid-19 world, government officials and the airline each stressed.

“We will keep reviewing these plans as we move towards December and circumstances evolve,” the airline said in a separate statement.

In the meantime, the airline said it will continue to provide critical repatriation and freight flights overseas and support the recovery of travel at home. The resurgence of domestic travel remains the most important element of the group’s recovery.

“We will reach out directly to any customers with a booking between October 31, 2021, and December 19, 2021, however recent levels of uncertainty meant international booking levels were relatively low,” Qantas said, further stressing that its trans-Tasman Sea services to New Zealand were not going to be affected

The airline also expressed optimism that additional travel bubbles will open once Australia’s vaccination program is complete, and to countries who would hopefully be in similar stages, although it would be difficult to predict who at this current stage.

Fear of Being A “Hermit” Kingdom

The six-month delay in the travel timeline has been blamed on slow vaccination rollouts, as the vast majority of Pfizer vaccines on order have yet to be shipped to Australia and are not expected until later this year.

Australia’s tourism industry, as well as some 40 thousand Australians living abroad who were identified as “stranded,” have had rather negative reactions toward the government’s decision to shut its borders even tighter, suggesting that the country would eventually become a hermit kingdom in the South Pacific.

The country has not made it easy for the “stranded” Australians abroad to return home either. Troubling reasons ranging from hefty returning fees, possible criminal charges if an Australian is returning from a country that has a highly infectious strain and difficulty in finding a flight home with an affordable price all made it nearly impossible for Australians to return home, even prior to the new border closure announcements.

Although Qantas was still operating international flights before the closure, it was charging a lot more than pre-Covid-19 prices as a means of covering up additional expenses and wanting to break even, which made it quite unaffordable for the stranded Australians to book flights.

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