How soon will international flights from Australia resume?
"Airlines are cautiously doing things to be ready," one expert notes.
It's the big question for Australian frequent flyers right now: When will international flights fully start up again?
Qantas has started selling international seats for services in December 2021. Air Canada is offering flights to Vancouver in December 2021.
Whether those or others actually happen will depend on progress towards 80% double vaccination levels across Australia. Many details, such as how vaccine passports will work and what quarantine requirements will apply when flying into Australia, remain to be worked out. It's also possible some states will resist opening their borders to international travellers.
Market experts say that while there's still a question mark over those specific flights, Australia resuming services will be important for tourism across the whole of Asia.
"I have big hopes that for Australia they will reopen to some degree around Christmas," said Gary Bowerman, director for travel intelligence firm Check-In Asia. "That would be a big psychological boost for other markets," he noted during a recent webinar on travel trends hosted by market analyst OAG Oviation.
Flights in Australia remain massively down on pre-pandemic levels. For the week of 13 September, domestic traffic was down 70% and international traffic down 87% compared to the same week in 2019, OAG analysis shows.
"Since June we've seen massive capacity reductions, particularly in Australia," said OAG chief analyst John Grant. "The bubble burst across the Tasman. It was a great story but it really wasn't a valid solution."
Those falls are much higher than the global average of a 16% drop in domestic flights and a 51% drop for international services.
"The problem with Australia is the fractured federation," Bowerman said. "Whether Australia will open up as one market or on a state by state basis isn't clear."
However, if those plans become clearer both experts expect airlines to ramp up quickly and start selling tickets.
"If there is any positive sort of messaging that comes out of Australia, major carriers will be able to ramp up capacity in a very short period of time," Grant said.
"Airlines are cautiously doing things to be ready, not just for Australia but for other markets as they recover. It is just the whole thing about confidence. The sooner there are definite statements, the more comfortable airlines will be about relaunching services."
One complication? For flights to be profitable, there needs to be demand in both directions.
"Australia will have that same problem as Phuket: You can open up, but if countries aren't allowing travellers to visit your destination there's very little you can do," Bowerman said.
That logic helps explain why Qantas, for instance, is opening up early for the US and UK, but doesn't expect to resume flights to Bali, traditionally a hugely popular destination for Australians, until April 2022 at the earliest.
My take? I'm not personally booking any Qantas December flights, because there are too many question marks over quarantine. But I am hoping that by the time Easter 2022 rolls around, there will be flights worth booking.
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Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more.
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