Qantas is betting the distribution of vaccines and lifting of border closures will allow it to resume scheduled services to key markets such as the US and UK from July.
The Australian carrier on Tuesday brought forward bookings for international travel to both destinations to July even as it pushed back a proposed March start date for international services it had already been selling.
Bookings to London and the US had previously been suspended until October but vaccination programs in both countries have boosted the carrier’s confidence that services will resume earlier.
“We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation,’’ a Qantas spokeswoman said.
“Recently we have aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021.”
Qantas has said for some time now that it did not expect international travel from Australia to start in any significant way until mid-year.
It had been hopeful that “travel bubbles” would allow it to fly to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan from March but it now believes that is unlikely to happen.
It is currently flying to New Zealand and has operated a number of repatriation flights.
Travel to and from Australia remains restricted and the federal government on Tuesday would not be drawn on the Qantas timing, noting that international borders would be opened when international arrivals did not pose a risk.
“Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said.
“The Australian Government is working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections. Operations and ticket sales on particular routes are commercial decisions for airlines.”
With its Boeing 747 fleet retired and its Airbus A380 superjumbos out of service, Qantas long-haul International routes will be operated by the airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners while its Airbus A330s can service medium-haul destinations.
The move comes as Air New Zealand announced it would convert its non-stop flights to the US into one-stop flights via Honolulu due to higher COVID-19 risk in California.
The changes, due to start January 11, will see cargo aircrew overnight in Honolulu rather than Los Angeles and San Francisco. North American passenger services will be routed via Honolulu from February 2 but travelers will not be able to stay in Hawaii.
The changes mean flights from New Zealand will make a brief stop in Honolulu to change crew before continuing onto Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Aircrew operating into LA and San Francisco will remain airside and operate the return flight to Honolulu where another crew will fly the plane back to New Zealand.
The airline said re-routing North American flights through Honolulu meant aircrew could overnight in a lower risk destination while still maintaining vital connections into North America. Hawaii has a significantly lower COVID infection rate than California.
“While it’s important to keep trade routes open and passenger services operating for our customers, looking after our people is our first priority,’’ AirNZ chief executive Greg Foran said.
Air New Zealand currently operates eight cargo and two passenger and cargo services per week between New Zealand and Los Angeles in addition to four cargo services between New Zealand and San Francisco and one cargo service from Australia to North America.