When Might Services Between London And Australia Resume?

Normally, travelers moving between Australia and London have multiple daily departures to choose from. That’s not the case now. While airlines still fly the route, government regulations, border closures, and quarantine periods make doing so a difficult business. Industry insiders are currently saying that easy travel on the kangaroo route will be off the books until the end of 2021. But there may be some light on the horizon.

British Airways is one of many airlines who have suspended flights on the route between Australia and London. Photo: Nick Morrish/British Airways

Some light on the horizon for the kangaroo route

Technically, it’s still possible to fly between Australia and London, or vice versa. Emirates, Qatar, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, and Cathay Pacific are among the airlines still flying to both countries via their home hub ports.

But Australia hasn’t lifted its ban on its own citizens leaving the countries. Nor has it lifted its cap on the number of incoming international passengers arriving into Australia (currently just over 6,300 per week and mostly returning Australian citizens). Further, the mandatory self-funded 14-day quarantine in a guarded facility remains in place. All up, it makes Australia a fairly difficult place to fly in or out of, both for passengers and airlines.

The Australian Government seems to be hanging its hopes on an effective COVID-19 vaccine rather than an effective COVID-19 testing regime at airports. It’s a gamble, but one that might just pay off.

On Monday, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced the results of stage III trials of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the trials, the vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective. It is being hailed as a breakthrough that could see borders re-opened and travelers back in the air within months.

If so, this could be the win airlines plying the busy kangaroo route have been looking for.

Tough border restrictions are making travel in and out of Australia difficult. Photo: Brisbane Airport Corporation

A busy route goes quiet

Normally, Qantas has two services a day between Australia and London, including the nonstop Dreamliner service between Perth and London. Along with the rest of Qantas’ international services, these flights are suspended. British Airways operated a daily Boeing 777 to Sydney via Singapore. These flights are also suspended, and BA recently pushed back the planned restart date to sometime in 2021.

A raft of Asian and Gulf carriers also offered one-stop options between Australia and London. Alternatively, North American airlines offered flights via their hubs. In addition, LATAM could hub you via Santiago, SAA via Johannesburg, or Air Mauritius via Port Louis. There were lots of options. It was a competitive route.

COVID-19 put the brakes on the traffic between Australia and London.  In August, at the Qantas AGM, CEO Alan Joyce expressed optimism about a vaccine.

“The news of the vaccine seems to get better every day,” he said.

Mr Joyce said he didn’t anticipate international flying in and out of Australia ramping up before mid-2021, longer for countries heavily impacted by COVID-19, citing the United States as an example.

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The Qantas CEO believes normal operations won’t resume until a vaccine is found. Photo: Qantas Newsroom

The high number of COVID cases in the UK pose a problem right now

Since then, the UK has been heavily impacted by another wave of COVID-19. That doesn’t bode well for the resumption of normal flying between Australia and London anytime soon.

England reported 18,293 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Australia reported 10 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and had just 89 active cases around the country, the majority returning travelers in quarantine.

The imbalance in numbers highlights why the Australian Government isn’t going to relax border and quarantine restrictions in the near to medium future. Until border and quarantine restrictions are relaxed, travel between Australia and London will remain difficult, notwithstanding some airlines still operating on the route.

But the vaccine news yesterday could change this. If the results hold up, there’s an expectation things could be looking brighter for the airline industry in the first half of 2021. That would be good news for Qantas and the other airlines that fly between Australia and London.