Qantas to return all Australia-based staff to work as travel reopens

Qantas has said all of its Australia-based staff will return to work and it will restart flights to more overseas destinations, as airlines in the locked-down Asia-Pacific region prepare for the return of international travel.

The Australian airline said on Friday 11,000 stood-down workers would return to their jobs in early December, representing half of its Australia-based staff, six months ahead of its original schedule.

The airline also announced five international routes would resume service by mid-January, bringing to at least 12 the number of destinations it planned to return to operation by early 2022. The airline normally provides services to a total of 27 overseas destinations.

Australia’s rising vaccination rates against Covid-19 have allowed it to push ahead with reopening domestically and to the world after months of lockdowns. It joins countries across the Asia-Pacific region, including Singapore and Thailand, that have touted plans to restart their travel industries in recent weeks.

The exceptions remain Hong Kong and mainland China, which have yet to show any sign of relaxing stringent quarantine and entry regimes for foreign visitors and residents.

Brendan Sobie of Sobie Aviation, an independent aviation and travel analyst based in Singapore, said international travel would begin to recover in the Asia-Pacific region in the last two months of this year.

Sobie said that while Asia lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of reopening to travel, flight resumptions and the easing of restrictions would put pressure on governments to further open up.

“There’s going to be increased momentum and a lot of countries will have to re-look at their strategies just because everywhere else around them is reopening,” he said.

Qantas said flights to Singapore would resume from November 23, four weeks earlier than scheduled. Flights to Fiji would follow in early December, with flights to Johannesburg, Bangkok and Phuket to return in January 2022. This month, it announced flights to London and Los Angeles would resume on November 1.

The flights would be limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, in line with government regulations, the company added.

The Qantas announcement comes after New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet revealed last week that the state would allow fully vaccinated international arrivals without quarantine from November 1, signalling an easing of some of the toughest border restrictions in the world.

“The decision by the NSW government to join many cities from around the world by removing quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers means we’re able to add these flights from Sydney much earlier than we would have otherwise,” said Alan Joyce, Qantas group chief executive.

Qantas shares jumped as much as 4.9 per cent in morning trading before closing flat.

Elsewhere in the region, Thailand has unveiled a scheme that would allow fully-vaccinated travellers from 46 countries, including the US, UK and France, to enter without quarantining from November 1.

Earlier this week, Singapore extended quarantine-free travel arrangements to a total of 10 countries after nearly 21 months of closed borders.

Singapore Airlines said this week it would restart flights to Manchester and reintroduce its flagship A380 to its Sydney routes from December 1. Korean Air said on Wednesday it would restart flights from Seoul to Honolulu in November.

“The ice has been broken and now we’re finally going forward,” said Sobie.