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COVID-19: Australian Government repatriation flights

COVID-19: Australian Government repatriation flights

While my view is that as a traveller, its not your home governments responsibility to get you back to your home country. Having said that, these are strange times and provide the ordinary traveller with some extreme challenges: border closures, airlines shutting down; isolation on repatriation. Some of these need to be resolved at a government level.

To that end, Qantas and Virgin have been tasked with providing rescue flights, probably the final chance for some Australians to return home before even tighter restrictions are imposed on borders and international flights.

The Australian government is underwriting the flights and according to the Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, government distressed traveller loans will be available for those who don’t have the financial wherewithal for the flights.

Flight Details – Qantas

There will be 10 weekly flights provided by Qantas. Here are the routes, frequency and the one-way cost in the originating countries currency:

London-Melbournex1£721 (~AU$1,450)
Los Angeles - Brisbanex1US$450 (~AU$731)
Hong Kong - Brisbanex2HK$3500 (~7AU$35)
Hong Kong - Melbournex2HK$3500 (~7AU$35)
Auckland - Brisbanex2NZ$320 (~AU$310)
Hong Kong - Melbournex2NZ$320 (~AU$310)

Qantas is planning on flying B787 Dreamliners on these flights. The flights will be all Economy, and passengers will be spaced out to comply with social distancing guidelines. There will be no entertainment available – which seems weird to me, except I suppose it will stop passengers touching the screens? I have a feeling bored passengers might be more of a threat to distancing and other health protocols rather than providing wipes and regularly wiping screens.

a close-up of a tail fin of a plane

Flight Details – Virgin Australia

Hong Kong - Brisbanex2HK$2983 (~AU$628)
Los Angeles - Brisbanex1US$475 (~AU$772)

These Virgin flights will be accommodated on their biggest planes Boeing 777s.

Flight Costs

The costs for these flights seems pretty high when considered against pre-coronavirus costs. Return flights to the UK pre-coronavirus in economy were around AU$1500 – so the Qantas fares can be seen as nearly double that (AU$1,475 one way).

However when you consider that these are effectively charter flights and that passengers will be practising social distancing protocols by being spaced out in the aircraft, which presumably means the flights will be around half full, and the taxpayer will pick up the bill for your 14 days of isolation in a hotel room on your return to Australia. That’s not bad value!

If you are looking at flights to get you out of India or Africa, then you will be looking at airfares of AU$2,500 to AU$3,000. In comparison, these rescue flights look pretty cheap.

a group of airplanes parked on the ground

Other flights

The Australian Government is reportedly looking at repatriation flights from some other areas including South Africa. Qatar and Emirates are still flying to some destinations, although at higher cost. Executive Traveller was listing some 18 airlines still flying into Australia as of 31 March, including Cathay Pacific, Garuda, Japan, Latam, Malaysia and Singapore. Some of these may have withdrawn by now, or severely reduced frequency.

At this point, you don’t have much room to haggle. Take what you can get, and worry about how to pay for it later is my suggestion.

‘Honey, did we take out travel insurance?’

a group of people sitting in an airplane

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

Book ’em Danno! Well, that’s what I’d be saying if I was stuck overseas and had access to one of these flights. I’m extremely glad that I am not stuck overseas, and although I think some people who undertook travel commencing in March should have known better, ‘there but for the grace of God go I‘.

I wish all travellers returning to Australia good luck, and just ask them to remember, that no one likes a whinger, if you are thinking of complaining about being in compulsory isolation in the taxpayers dollar on your return.

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