Sydney Passengers Face Travel Headache Following COVID Cluster

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Australia’s internal borders have snapped shut against Sydney’s five million residents following a small COVID cluster in the Sydney metropolitan area. That’s gone on to cause headaches at Sydney Airport both for airlines and passengers in the lead-up to Christmas.

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Internal border closures have forced airlines to cancel flights to and from Sydney. Photo: Jetstar

Over the weekend, with other states expected to close their borders, Sydney’s domestic terminals experienced crowds reminiscent of pre-COVID days as travelers scrambled to get out of town before border closures came into force. They were lucky. Over Monday, most internal borders closed to residents of the greater Sydney area.

Scores of cancelations today at Sydney Airport

Since November, most hold-out Australian states had relaxed their border restrictions, causing airlines to ramp up their flights substantially. Qantas and Jetstar were aiming to fly 68% of pre-COVID levels for December. Virgin Australia expected it would reach 60% of prior year domestic capacity by January 2021. With Sydney the busiest airport in Australia and a key cog in the airline’s domestic networks, those targets are now in disarray,

Sydney Airport was slated to push back around 230 domestic departures on Tuesday. According to FlightAware, the airlines have canceled approximately domestic 83 flights out of Sydney on Tuesday. That includes 20 flights before 09:00 and 50 flights before lunchtime. Nearly all cancelations were mainline services on the heavily trafficked interstate trunk routes. Most of the flights still on the departure boards are intrastate flights within New South Wales.

Qantas has the most cancelations throughout Tuesday, scratching 35 departures out of Sydney. Jetstar has canceled 28 services, and Virgin Australia has canceled 20 services. There’s also evidence of airlines repositioning aircraft out of Sydney, particularly to Brisbane and Melbourne.

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Travelers scramble to leave Sydney on the weekend. Photo: Getty Images

The airlines move to deal with cancelations

On its website, Qantas says:

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“If we’ve canceled your Qantas flight, we’ll rebook you on the next available flight to your booked destination (if possible), at no additional cost to you. Alternatively, you can choose a flight credit or a refund. You won’t be charged any change or cancellation fees. We’ll be contacting anyone whose flight has been impacted as soon as possible.”

The airline says it is experiencing a high number of calls to its call centers and asks passengers not traveling within the next 10 days to hold off calling. Qantas recently courted controversy by closing its staffed sales desks at airports and lounges, trying to migrate passengers to the airline’s app. However, many disgruntled passengers said it’s precisely at times like this when you need access to an onsite staffed service center at airports.

Qantas’ low-cost subsidiary Jetstar says on its website:

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“Customers with bookings to or from New South Wales until 31 January 2021 who no longer wish to fly can choose to cancel their trip and receive a voucher to the value of their booking. If any flight is canceled due to border restrictions, we’ll contact customers directly with a range of options, which may include an alternative flight or a refund depending on the circumstances.”

Jetstar also encourages affected passengers to manage their bookings through the Jetstar website or app.

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The border closures are a setback for Australia’s airlines, including Virgin Australia. Photo: Virgin Australia

A blow for Virgin Australia just as they were ramping up

Meanwhile, As part of our Passenger Promise, bookings for travel on or before 31 March 2021 can be canceled to travel credits or changed without incurring a feewas getting back to business after a prolonged period of operating skeleton flights. They’ve now slashed flights out of their busy Sydney hub. They only want to hear from passengers who are traveling in or out of Sydney within the next 72 hours.

The airline says the following on its website:

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“As part of our Passenger Promise, bookings for travel on or before 31 March 2021 can be canceled to travel credits or changed without incurring a fee.”

After a recent resurgence, it’s back to square one for domestic flights out of Sydney. The annual summer holiday season is in full swing. People are keen to get away after a miserable 2020, but the holiday plans of many are dashed. Based on past experience, it might be a couple of months before other states unwind their restrictions against travelers from Sydney.

An abandoned holiday isn’t the end of the world. However, it further erodes confidence in forward planning regarding flying and travel. That’s bad news for the tourism and airline sectors when they need advance booking and the cash that comes with it.

What are your thoughts about the restrictions? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

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