Qantas has stopped selling tickets on its flights to the USA and the UK until the end of October 2021, underscoring recent comments by CEO Alan Joyce that travel to both countries is unlikely to restart until the end of next year at the earliest.
However, flights to a number of Pacific and Asian destinations remain on the schedule in a sign of optimism that Covid-safe 'travel bubbles' may open up in the coming months.
That roster includes New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Fiji and New Caledonia.
Qantas had previously removed long-range international flights through to March 2021; today's changes to the airline's reservation system provide further insight into Qantas' expected 'go' and 'no-go' zones for 2021. Johannesburg and Santiago have also been pulled from the schedule.
"We've temporarily stopped selling on some of our other international routes like the UK and US until the end of October 2021, given the uncertainty in those markets and ongoing government restrictions," a Qantas spokesman confirmed to Executive Traveller.
On the bright side, the spokesman added that the airline was "continuing to sell fares to destinations where travel bubbles may be opened."
Speaking at last week's Qantas annual general meeting, Joyce said that "for some of our big destination like the United States and the UK, it's going to need a vaccine given the high prevalence of the virus in both of those locations."
"But we are getting more and more confident about the opportunities and the potential for a vaccine in helping getting those operations up by potentially by the end of 2021."
Joyce remained positive about the prospect of travel bubbles with countries which have Covid-19 under control, and flagged that the airline could begin direct flights to new destinations such as South Korea and Taiwan if they lowered their borders to Australians.
Travel bubble destinations would not require quarantine at either end of the trip, although it's possible that a negative Covid test might be required prior to departure and potentially on arrival.
“There’s some great developments in testing that could resolve the issue of people needing to go into quarantine,” Joyce noted at the CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit held on September 2.
Those tests are “potentially super-fast, 15 minutes or so,” Joyce recounted, “to test whether you’re exposed to Covid-19, which means if you pass there’s no need to be in quarantine at the other end.”
Read more: Qantas eyes flights to South Korea, Taiwan
Options for US, UK-bound travellers
Although new Qantas bookings to London and the USA can no longer be made through to late October 2021, the flights themselves have not been cancelled and existing bookings remain active.
While this provides Qantas with the flexibility to reinstate sales in the unlikely event that conditions change, it also officially precludes would-be passengers from claiming a refund from the airline.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) suggests that in the event where "a travel booking has not yet been cancelled, even though it seems unlikely that restrictions will be lifted by then", customers should "contact the business you made your booking with" and discuss their options.
This can include "what remedies may be available to you if you cancel now, as compared to what remedies may be available to you if you wait" until Qantas formally cancels your flight.
"Depending on your circumstances, it may be in your interests to wait for further updates from your travel service provider before taking any steps to cancel your travel and seek a remedy," the ACCC suggests.
As previously reported, as an alternative to refunds Qantas has been encouraging many passengers to turn their booking into travel credit which can used on Qantas flights through to the end of 2022.
Some incentives are also being put on the table, such as having an additional 10% of the booking's value held in credit, or allowing all flights booked using that credit to accrue a double serve of frequent flyer points or status credits.