Both Virgin Australia and Qantas are delaying the planned relaunches of international flying after the Australian Government indicated that Australia’s borders would remain shut for at least another year. With the recent unveiling of the 2021 Federal Budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg admits that we are unlikely to be allowed to travel overseas for the next 12 months, with the exception of travel bubbles.

Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur.

– Australia Federal Budget 2021

Talking to ABC’s 7:30 on Tuesday night, Frydenberg says that the government is taking a “conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year”. With that in mind, here are the latest changes to Virgin’s and Qantas’ flight schedules.

Virgin Australia holds out on NZ, Pacific Islands, Bali

Virgin will continue to launch Sydney-Queenstown and Brisbane-Queenstown flights from 18 September 2021 and Melbourne-Queenstown flights from 7 December 2021, as planned. However, all other New Zealand cities will temporarily be off the cards for the rest of the year.

A spokesperson for the airline stresses to Point Hacks that Virgin is still dedicated to flying to New Zealand when the time is right, but “current demand for other New Zealand destinations remains subdued”. The airline will also delay the return of short-range international flights to Bali, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa and the Solomon Islands until at least December 2021 as well, in line with the rest of the New Zealand network.

Virgin Australia Boeing 737
Virgin’s Boeing 737s will remain flying domestically for most of 2021.

Virgin’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, Alistair Hartley, said that the airline would continually review its network to respond to the latest advice, including opening up bookings of New Zealand and other international destinations sooner if travel demand improves and circumstances change.

While we know some Australians are itching to travel overseas, it is clear that international travel won’t return to normal as quickly as first anticipated. We’re being realistic about restarting short-haul international flying, and have today delayed services to the Pacific, and to Bali, Indonesia until at least December.

Although we’ve seen positive developments with the trans-Tasman travel bubble and Governments working exceptionally well to manage outbreaks, the current demand for travel to New Zealand remains subdued, except for Queenstown, where customers are looking to travel over the September school holidays and the upcoming summer. All other New Zealand services will be deferred for the time being.

– Alistair Hartley, Virgin Australia Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, 13 May 2021

Customers impacted by these changes will be contacted by Virgin and offered a full refund.

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Qantas ditches 31 October restart for International flights

The Red Roo will once again scrap its ambitious plans to resume international flying sooner, cancelling most flights from its planned 31 October 2021 start date to mid-December. Like Virgin, Qantas will “keep reviewing these plans as we move towards December and circumstances evolve.”

Flights to New Zealand remain unaffected under the trans-Tasman bubble, and Qantas will continue flying to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. The airline is now eyeing travel bubbles in Asia for its next international destinations, with countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan high on its wishlist.

Qantas Ski Passes
Qantas is keen for more travel bubbles, following the successful launch of New Zealand flights.

Qantas has long been a strong advocate of resuming international flights sooner, with its policy based on the Australian Government’s recommendations and also the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has previously remarked that the airline remains firm on a ‘no jab, no fly’ policy, and is “looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft”.

Summing up

The situation around travel remains fluid and the goalposts are always changing. From slower than anticipated rollout on vaccinations to continued mass outbreaks overseas, there are still many factors that are delaying the return of general international flying from Australia.

Virgin Australia is playing it safe. After all, it now has a reduced fleet of Boeing 737s which are being heavily used on domestic routes, where travel demand is slowly returning to normal. It makes sense to initially focus on Queenstown, as the premier leisure trans-Tasman destination, and hold out on the other routes until the airline picks up ten more Boeing 737s this year.

Qantas has a much larger fleet with plenty of jets (primarily Airbus A330s) still in hibernation, but ready to return to service if demand picks up. The Flying Kangaroo has previously told Point Hacks that “there is potential for destinations like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore, some we haven’t operated to for a long time,” in reference to future travel bubbles which may eventuate.

The airline still remains optimistic with the relaunch of international flights and will likely have tickets available for sale before anything is officially confirmed by the government, so we may see more pushbacks to the start of Qantas’ international schedule in the coming months.

Virgin and Qantas defer International flights until the end of 2021 was last modified: August 24th, 2023 by Brandon Loo