Will Qantas Continue Repatriation Flights In 2021?

Australia’s Qantas will continue to run repatriation flights throughout January and into February. There is also a push to operate further flights as availability remains tight on flights to Australia. Qantas has operated a series of repatriations in recent months. These flights have fallen outside the strict caps on weekly passenger arrivals into Australia and offer a much-needed alternative for stranded Australians trying to get home.

Qantas is currently running repatriation flights throughout January and into February. Photo: Qantas

A series of repatriation flights over the next seven weeks

Throughout January, Qantas is operating a flight from New Delhi on January 1, a flight from Frankfurt on January 3, a flight from London on January 16, and two further flights from New Delhi on January 18 and February 20. Qantas also operated four repatriation flights across December.

Qantas is operating those flights in conjunction with the Australian government on a cost-recovery basis. The Australian government is offering the most financially distressed travelers first dibs at the cheapest fares. These services are all landing in Darwin where all travelers will go into a mandatory 14-day quarantine at nearby Howard Springs.

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Writing in The Age last weekend, Louise Radcliffe-Smith recounted her repatriation flight from Paris to Darwin earlier this month. Ms. Radcliffe-Smith, an Australian citizen, was stranded for 38 days in France after an earlier flight was canceled. Her French visa had also expired.

She notes that her flight was the first-ever nonstop flight between Paris and Australia. Apart from the ordeal of actually getting onto the flight, Ms. Radcliffe-Smith had nothing but praise for the officials (including the often criticized Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) for their handling of the repatriation flight and quarantine process.

She notes the Howard Springs quarantine facility isn’t too bad (they serve Thai duck salad), and says 16 people off the last three repatriation flights have tested positive for COVID-19.

If the Australian government gets its way, that’s a process a lot more travelers to Australia will go through. Earlier this week, the government indicated that even vaccinated travelers will have to undergo quarantine until the efficacy of any vaccine is established.

A Qantas repatriation flight touches down in Darwin in October. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas & Australian government open to operating more repatriation flights

Both Qantas and the Australian government have indicated they are open to laying on more repatriation flights if needed. In late November, Qantas boss Alan Joyce said;

“We’re working with the government on a lot more of those flights occurring.”

Just before Christmas, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne, said the Australian government would look at operating more repatriation flights.

“The government will consider operating further facilitated flights for Australians whose flights have been canceled due to border closures,” The Australian reported the Minister saying.

It is likely more flights will be needed. It’s hard to get a handle on exactly how many Australians remain stranded overseas. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade manages a list of people wanting to get home who’ve registered. There have been criticisms of how the list is managed and questions asked over why people mysteriously drop off it. A couple of weeks ago that list had 30,000 plus names on it, including 4,500 Australians in the UK and 10,000 Australians stranded in India.

Quarantine capacity caps in Australia means cutting those numbers will take time. It seems likely Qantas will be flying many of them home over the first half of 2021.

What do you think? Should Qantas be putting on more repatriation flights? Post a comment and let us know.