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.