Why I wouldn't get too excited about Qantas' plan to restart flights in July
Australia has been among the most aggressive countries when it comes to fighting COVID-19, acting swiftly to close international borders and even restrict domestic travel.
While the nation's approach has made it all but impossible for foreigners to enter, and even for many citizens to easily return, Australia has so far seen fewer than 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths — a fraction of the number of Americans who perish due to related complications every single day.
Many Australian businesses haven't fared as well. On the airline front, Qantas has seen a tremendous impact, leading the airline to accelerate its Boeing 747 retirements, and Virgin Australia has undergone a massive restructuring and sale to the investment firm Bain Capital.
Given Australia's especially cautious approach, it may come as a bit of a surprise to see that Qantas has accelerated its relaunch of several key international flights. As Executive Traveller reports, the carrier is even planning a return to the U.S. on July 1, 2021.
As of now, the carrier is selling nonstop flights to the following U.S. airports for travel beginning July 1:
- Dallas (Sydney)
- Los Angeles (Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney)
- San Francisco (Sydney)
While the first inclination may be to assume that the airline has concluded that international travel to and from Australia will be widely accessible beginning this July, I'm far less optimistic.
Recently, a new COVID-19 variant has led to expanded border closures and national lockdowns, which have the potential to persist for at least several months. And while vaccinations have begun, it's not yet clear whether they entirely eliminate the risk of spreading the disease, or how effective they are against new strains.
Not to mention that July is the start of winter in the southern hemisphere, which could lead to locals and visitors spending more time indoors, where the virus is far more likely to spread. It seems like an odd time of year to "test the waters" by opening the floodgates to international travel.
So, how can we explain this accelerated timeline? This might be excessively pessimistic, but airlines do need to sell tickets in order to stay in business. It's unclear what the carrier's exact motives are, but by adding flights for sale, Qantas can lock in funds from travelers hoping to visit Australia this summer, with the airline later issuing travel credits or refunds if it's forced to delay a flight's start date.
Similarly, cruise lines have continuously listed sailing dates that seem a bit detached from reality — Carnival is selling cruises departing from its Miami port for this March, for example:
Personally, I'm not expecting to be able to visit Australia on July 1. It'd certainly be a nice surprise, but it seems unrealistic at this point.
For now, I'd avoid tying up any cash on a summer 2021 booking. If you're hoping to travel then, consider redeeming your miles, instead. Qantas partner American Airlines is offering extra flexibility on canceled award tickets, for example — if you have to cancel your trip, you'll be able to get your miles back without a fee.