Australians are planning to fly overseas for holidays from the middle of next year, according to the local boss of airline giant Emirates, who says travellers want to see the international border stay open for six months before they venture abroad.
However, Barry Brown, Emirates’s vice-president for Australasia, said the initial rush of travellers in and out of Australia since the reopening of the international border last week had been stronger than expected, prompting the carrier to ramp up its capacity over summer.
“The pent-up demand inbound is phenomenal,” he said, as thousands of Australians stranded overseas during the pandemic flood home. “And that’s before Australia opens up to international visitors.”
Airlines are gradually increasing flights into NSW and Victoria after the two states lifted quarantine requirements for vaccinated Australian residents on November 1, and the federal government lifted its ban on Australian citizens leaving the country.
Mr Brown said outbound bookings were also strong until January, with people mostly leaving the country to reconnect with family they were separated from during the pandemic. Demand ramps up again in mid-2022, he said, as holidaymakers feel confident enough to travel again.
“The youth think they’re bulletproof… they’re already making bookings, and they’re making a great number of the reservations that we’re taking today,” Mr Brown said.
Most leisure travellers were holding back though, he said, and wanted to see how international travel worked for the next six months before travelling.
Emirates was the third biggest international airline servicing Australia before the pandemic. It carried 7 per cent of all international passengers in 2019, behind only Singapore Airlines (8 per cent), and Qantas/Jetstar (26 per cent).
The carrier has continued flying to Australia throughout the pandemic under strict passenger caps - set in line with hotel quarantine capacity, which limited some flights to fewer than a dozen people - and carried 90,000 passengers here in the past 12 months.
Emirates is flying a daily Boeing 777 service out of Sydney to its Dubai hub, and from December 1 will upgrade that to its Airbus A380 superjumbos. Mr Brown said the airline would increase its four-times weekly Melbourne-Dubai service to a daily flight, also using the 777s, from December 1 as well, responding to passenger demand to date.
Qantas is accelerating the return of its A380s in response to a stronger than expected bounce back in international travel demand, while Singapore Airlines is already operating several daily flights into Sydney and Melbourne.
Emirates is targeting a return to 70 per cent of pre-COVID levels of flying across its global network by December and a full return to pre-COVID levels by the middle of next year. But Mr Brown said Emirates’ capacity into Australia over that period would depend on when other states reopened their borders, and when the country allowed non-residents to visit again.
The global travel industry is trying to ease travellers’ fears about the complexity of complying with the different quarantine, vaccination and testing rules; and the risk of contracting COVID-19 abroad.
Mr Brown said Emirates had introduced disposable menus in its premium cabins and removed them entirely in economy class to lower transmission risk, while lavatories were now cleaned every 45 minutes during flights.