Qantas CEO Says Australia Will Re-Open To Visitors In July. Government Says Not So Fast. What’s The Truth?

Qantas started selling international tickets – for New Zealand at the end of March based on an expected ‘travel bubble’ reciprocally permitted visits between the two countries – and July 1 for the rest of their international route network including the United States. The CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, said he expected the country to re-open to international travel at that time.

I quickly booked three business class awards roundtrip on Qantas in hopes of visiting my family, even knowing that any re-opening could be pushed back, that there could be requirements for travel I could not or wouldn’t want to meet, and that re-openings could be reconsidered.

The government of Australia was none too amused with Joyce’s announcement about Australian policy, however. Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Michael McCormack responded,

International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians.

Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government.

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.

In response Lucky from One Mile at a Time concluded, “it sure sounds to me like we’re nowhere close to Australia opening up borders to anything other than travel bubbles, and that the government was likely caught off guard by Qantas’ announcement as well.” I’d agree with the second part of the statement, but I’m not sure the first quite captures what’s going on here.

  • Note that the Deputy Prime Minister doesn’t say Alan Joyce is wrong.

  • The CEO of Australia’s national airline is as plugged in as anyone in the country to when they’ll re-open to foreign travel.

  • Qantas wants to re-open and sell tickets. They’ve put tickets on sale starting in July. Australians looking forward to travel and putting out cash to travel builds a constituency for re-opening and starts to build pressure.

  • The government’s bureaucrats can’t appear to cede their power, they need to save face. McCormack says “[d]ecisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government.” The real issue here seems to be Joyce frontrunning the government, not the substance of his remarks.

  • No decision has likely been made, though there have certainly been discussions. Notionally travel might re-start in July, as the Qantas CEO says, but it’s far from certain (if nothing else because the course of the global pandemic is uncertain).

  • Even if the government were to plan a re-opening they don’t want to promise it because of the uncertainty. They’ve been successful in containing the virus and don’t want to jeopardize that. They’re going to play things conservatively.

The public spat over whether and when Australia is likely to re-open is about positioning, pressure, and saving face. Joyce’s comments and decisions likely did get out too far ahead of the government, but they’re also likely based on something substantively real that could change based on facts on the ground.

We don’t yet know when Australia will re-open because they haven’t re-opened. Even an announcement of a re-opening date is subject to change. But having Qantas selling tickets and saying they believe re-opening is coming is hopeful, even if customers are fronting cash to the airline in the meantime for travel that might not happen.

That’s why I’m a big fan of using miles to redeem for travel, giving yourself an option should circumstances allow, and refunding mileage awards if they do not.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Travel bubbles to NZ, The South Pacific nations and Hawaii sounds like a good start…….

  2. As I just commented on another post, they still haven’t managed to open an Australia-New Zealand travel bubble despite talking about it for months. When Australia eventually reopens to foreigners, it’ll be from countries that have COVID under some semblance of control. There’s no way the US will make that list by July, even with vaccinations and pre-departure testing.

  3. They don’t need to open up to whole countries, just make stringent vaccination requirements for people coming from anywhere other than NZ and others where COVID is under control.

  4. Don’t think even the Spanish flu killed a third of the world’s population…..
    imagine the untold deaths though if lockdowns hadn’t been established, not to mention the long term economic damage that likely would have been worse then what we currently have and will recover from once vaccinations are finally widespread

  5. 2020 was a bad year for coronavirus
    2021: Hold my beer!

    It ain’t over yet by a long shot folks.

  6. Shorter Gary Leff: push those miles and credit cards, no matter reality.

    Wishful thinking that Australia is open to widespread international inbound travel in July. Delusional actually.

  7. I don’t think so. I think he didn’t say Joyce was wrong because he didn’t want to rub it in. I don’t think Australia is anywhere close to reopening for travel by summer. Maybe by the end of the year if vaccinations are prevelant.

    This country is months away from the current spike, which has yet to reach its post new years’ peak never mind the next spike caused by the British variant becoming dominant here, subsiding to pre Thanksgiving levels, let alone levels where the Aussies are going to feel comfortable letting us in there.

    I would put money on no Summer re-open.

  8. The virus has already mutated to be more infectious (U.K.) and potentially less effective to existing vaccines (South Africa). Anyone predicting a summer re-open isn’t really paying attention.

    Vaccinations will help, but who organizes an international vaccine passport? If the national governments need to organize for that to happen expect that to happen two years too late.

  9. @CHRIS — Don’t confuse cause and effect. The death rate is “only” 400,000 Americans (more than any war) because only in rare cases access to hospitals and ICUs has been a problem. The actual kill rate of the virus is far, far higher, and you’d see it if it were allowed to spread unchecked and hospital capacity was an issue — check out the stats for North and South Dakota for an inking. But also very important is the number of people who are permanently hobbled by long COVID.

    All I can say is that people born in Australia and New Zealand are lucky bastards and will be getting an influx of highly qualified knowledge workers, who know that since they can work from anywhere they might as well work from a place where the government cares about safety and eliminates pandemic threats rapidly instead of allowing them to go on for months and months and months, with the side effects of allowing mutations to occur. Everyone knows that there will be more pandemics.

  10. “…imagine the untold deaths though if lockdowns hadn’t been established…”

    Sorry, John, you need to check the evidence, the lockdowns had minimal impact on mortality rates. It’s fascinating that people are unable or unwilling to do independent research.

  11. James, I live in Hawaii, simple fact is we have had relatively few deaths and had we not locked down would have had many more deaths. No research needed just common sense.
    Just like the simple fact that if everyone embraced wearing a mask when appropriate there would have been far fewer deaths too.

  12. You also might want to compare Australia and NZ to Sweden to get a good handle on the effectiveness of lockdowns

  13. Quantas can sell as many tickets as they like in preparation of a possible opening, but unless the government says it’s ok, you’re not getting in! Cruise lines have been selling cruises (and then cancelling) for months, still are!

    Until the ‘vid is under control Aus and NZ, no chance they will jeopardize what they worked so diligently to achieve

  14. “No research needed just common sense.” Ah, the cry of the disinterested and uninformed. The data and evidence is available to counter your “common sense”. Unfortunately, it requires an individual to apply a little effort, something the compliant and servile masses are unwilling to do.

  15. The Australian government, having had great success early on by closing the borders and instituting an effective quarantine scheme, is now trapped because the only way is down. They are becoming more controlling out of a desire to prevent anyone from catching the disease. Just two days ago the entire city of Brisbane entered a three day lockdown because there had been ONE case outside of hotel quarantine. The government simultaneously brought in a nationwide mandate for masks on planes – even on flights between cities with no cases – and halved the number of people allowed to enter the country each week. They seem to have no plan for how to start to reopen.

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