The Qantas Group has announced its latest financial year results for the July 2020 to June 2021 period, with a stark but not unexpected loss of AU$2.35 billion, a slightly better performance than the AU$2.7 billion recorded the previous year.
In a bullish stance the airline also made a separate announcement regarding its plans to restart international flights, on the basis of the Australian Government’s phased reopening strategy.
December 2021 “in sight”
The recently increased pace of Australia’s vaccine rollout and the nation’s plan for a progressive reopening of international borders has given Qantas confidence to pen a December 2021 target for restarting selected international services.
“December 2021 remains in reach, based on [the] pace of vaccine rollout”Qantas
Australia has a four-phase reopening plan, and fully vaccinated residents will have no restrictions on outbound international travel, nor will any arrival caps apply to them on their return, in Phase C.
This will be triggered once the country achieves 80% full vaccination among adults aged 16 or over, a milestone that should be reached in late November 2021.
Australia is expected to announce this week that the vaccine will also be offered to 12-15 year olds, which would help boost overall coverage.
Phase C should also include a gradual reopening of inward and outward international travel with safe countries including proportionate quarantine, with reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travellers.
In the country’s final reopening stage – Phase D – international borders should be fully open, with arrival quarantine only applied for travellers arriving from high-risk countries.
There is no exact timescale or trigger criteria for Phase D, meaning it’s unlikely to take effect until sometime next year.
While Qantas cannot predict exactly when Australia’s tough international border restrictions will start to be relaxed, the airline is working on what it calls “some reasonable assumptions” on the basis of the phased reopening.
“It’s obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders re-open, 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.”
The Qantas international restart strategy focuses on ‘COVID-safe’ destinations with high vaccination rates, which the airline has said includes North America, the UK, Singapore and Japan.
Of these, Japan has the lowest vaccination rate currently at around 43%, but is catching up fast and should beat Australia to 80% full vaccination by early November 2021.
“Key markets like the UK, North America and parts of Asia have high and increasing levels of vaccination. This makes them highly likely to be classed as low risk countries for vaccinated travellers to visit and return from under reduced quarantine requirements, pending decisions by the Australian Government and entry policies of other countries.”Qantas
Qantas has therefore flagged a mid-December 2021 return to several international destinations. Initially the airline intends to deploy Airbus A330s and Boeing 787s on these routes.
Schedules show a tentative restart date from 18th December 2021 for the carrier’s Singapore flights, with the airline presumably hoping to tap into demand over the festive period if possible.
Proposed Singapore Schedule
|Brisbane||3/wk||A330||18 Dec 21|
|London*||7/wk||B789||18 Dec 21|
|Melbourne||4/wk||A330||19 Dec 21|
|Perth||4/wk||A330||14 Feb 22|
|18 Dec 21|
* Booking not yet available
If the 18th December plan comes good for Qantas, that will represent a 632-day gap in operation since the last passenger flight, QF52 to Brisbane, departed Changi on 25th March 2020.
In the meantime, the airline has been operating cargo-only flights using Airbus A330s on Singapore – Australia routes throughout the pandemic.
Airbus A380s from 2022
Things get more interesting as the plans for 2022 get underway.
Qantas has announced that it intends to bring five Airbus A380s out of desert storage and back into service in mid-2022 for Sydney – Los Angeles flights, about a year earlier than originally planned.
From November 2022 the superjumbos would make their way back to the Singapore route under the plans, flying to and from London via Changi, as they did before COVID-19.
This would represent the first Qantas A380 flights from Singapore since 23rd March 2020, an immense gap of nearly 1,000 days.
“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.”Qantas
This is an interesting shift from the carrier’s earlier strategy, which was to fly its pre-COVID A380 routes using Boeing 787s while the superjumbos were parked, for around three years.
Ultimately Qantas says 10 of the its A380s could be back in service by early 2024, subject to demand. Sadly, two of the type will be permanently retired.
A380 cabin products
All 10 of the A380s Qantas intends to bring back into service boast the latest cabin products, first introduced in 2019, just before the pandemic hit.
In Business Class it’s the airline’s latest version of the popular Thompson Vantage Business Class seat.
What is different is that the Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s don’t have the A380’s lounge area, ideal for a mid-flight change of scenery or meeting, or to dine with a partner, friend or colleague.
This area also includes a self-serve bar, and is shared with First Class passengers.
Speaking of First Class, there’s no such option on the A330s or 787s, with this 14-seat cabin exclusive to the airline’s superjumbos.
Despite its age, the Qantas First Class product is quite innovative. We’ve flown it a couple of times (see our review) and while it doesn’t boast fully enclosed suites or double beds, it still holds up strongly against many competitors.
Will the Singapore lounges reopen?
As most of our readers know, Qantas has two lounges at Singapore Changi Airport. There’s the giant 570-capacity 2,200 sq m Business Class Lounge and the more intimate First Class Lounge, accommodating 240 guests.
We’ve got comprehensive reviews of both lounges, both conducted shortly before they closed due to COVID-19.
So far in Australia Qantas has started by opening its smaller First Class international lounges before its Business Class ones as demand picks up and routes start to open post-COVID-19, like the carrier did in Sydney and Melbourne when the Australia – New Zealand travel bubble launched.
That could mean we see the smaller (and much superior) First Class lounge in Singapore open its doors before the mammoth 570-seat Business Class one, when the airline restarts its services here.
Indeed Stephanie Tully, Qantas Chief Customer Officer, told Executive Traveller that “it will depend on what the demand looks like” when making the ‘which lounge first’ reopening decision.
The space also lends itself towards a relatively easy segregation of Qantas Platinum One or Platinum status status holders, plus oneworld Emerald members, in their own dedicated area with enhanced F&B options.
Is the timescale realistic?
Qantas seems to be balancing expectations with this one, by saying this is certainly the international reopening timeline it is working towards, but at the same time admitting that “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”.
The Group CEO remains upbeat, however.
“Some people might say we’re being too optimistic, but based on the pace of the vaccine rollout, this is within reach and we want to make sure we’re ready.”
Nonetheless there are still hurdles to overcome, which have potential to delay these plans further into 2022.
Qantas has previously been forced to postpone its planned Singapore restart from July 2021 to October 2021, then December 2021.
There are also ongoing national debates in Australia over whether the government’s proposed lifting of restrictions will lead to higher than predicted fatality levels.
If the government was to change direction on its reopening strategy or delay it, that would certainly have a knock-on effect for Qantas’ plans.
What about other routes?
Qantas has mentioned a few points on its international route network that almost certainly won’t make the initial reactivation list, while vaccination rates in those locations remain low in comparison to places like Singapore.
Flights to destinations that still have low vaccine rates and high levels of COVID infection will now be pushed out from December 2021 until April 2022 – including Bali, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City and Johannesburg.Qantas
Given the latest vaccination rates in some of these places, even April 2022 looks optimistic in our view.
It’s great to see light at the end of the tunnel for Australia’s strict border restrictions, with the country planning to open up in phases as vaccination levels increase, a refreshing pivot from the ‘zero COVID’ strategy employed to date.
Not only will that hopefully mean the return of Qantas services from Singapore to Australia, it should mean another London link, the return of at least one more premium airline lounge at Changi, and even the carrier’s newest Airbus A380 cabins by the end of 2022.
We’ve been here before though… and with COVID-19 nothing is certain. It’s probably too early to get excited about a Christmas trip ‘down under’ at this stage.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed though!
(Cover Photo: Qantas)