Qatar Airways has revealed it will no longer accept bookings to Australia in order to further limit the impact of the country’s extended restrictions on international arrivals.
Due to the cap on international passengers travelling to Australian destinations, Qatar Airways said in a statement sent on Friday that it can only carry a limited number of passengers per day to all of its Australia destinations.
The airline, which has repatriated at least 180,000 Australians since March, said this would result in thousands of Australian citizens and residents being unable to be accommodated on flights in the coming months.
“Due to the dynamic nature of the pandemic, airlines operating flights to Australia have faced ever-changing restrictions, often imposed on short notice,” Qatar Airways said.
The airline said the continuous changes to restrictions announced by the federal government had seen passengers experience a “cascading effect” of restrictions that have effected previous existing bookings and new bookings, which are now included in the current extended restriction period.
“These combined restrictions have resulted in many passengers having their tickets rebooked onto later flights several times as demand exceeds the new caps announced.”
Currently, Qatar Airways is only allowed to carry a maximum of 30 to 50 passengers to Sydney, 40 to 45 to Perth, 25 to Brisbane and 60 to Adelaide each day while Melbourne remains closed to all inbound passengers.
With the recent extension of restrictions until late-October, Qatar Airways said it would only transport a maximum of around 4,500 passengers.
Qatar Airways said that each day hundreds of people are advised that they cannot be accommodated on their booked flight and need to be rebooked for a later date where there may be availability.
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways Group, said the airline has been one of the leaders in carrying international traffic to and from Australia since April, but noted that ensuring the continued repatriation of passengers Down Under was becoming “increasingly challenging”.
“While other airlines grounded operations, we kept flying, carrying almost 45 per cent of international passengers in April and 34 per cent in May, helping carry over 180,000 Australians and international travellers home,” he said.
“These flights have also helped maintain vital supply chains for Australian businesses with our airline carrying just over 15,000 tonnes of Australian goods since 1 March 2020.
“The continued operation of these flights is vital to the Australian economy as they maintain a much-needed link to the world and facilitate international exports.
“We have always maintained that we have a long-term commitment to Australia and our support to Australian passengers will not waiver despite the challenges of COVID-19.
“We will continue to work within the limited traffic rights framework granted by the Australian government and remain ready to operate as many flights as possible to bring stranded Australians home.”
According to the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), an industry association representing international airlines serving in Australia, information suggests “more than 100,000” Australians are trying to get home.
The association believes that under current restrictions it could take six months for these arrivals to return to Australia unless arrival caps are eased across the country.
However, the news comes as Qatar Airways acknowledged that it had been forced to prioritise customers who pay more for tickets, following reports by The Guardian that its aircraft were landing in Sydney with as few as four economy passengers.
“In order to ensure the continued viability of our operations to Australia commercial value of tickets sold must also be taken into consideration to be able to operate each flight,” the airline said.
“However, each passenger’s case is treated on an individual basis regardless of what cabin class they have booked. We have been assisting many passengers with emergency/compassionate issues as first priority to help them get on a flight home to Australia as soon as possible.”
Qatar Airways said it analyses each flight based on a range of criteria, including compassionate and medical requirements, connecting flights, booking class, party size and commercial value.
“We continue to work closely with all our passengers to find alternative flights if they are unable to travel on their original intended flight. The airline also recently resumed flights to Adelaide, one of the five Australian cities now served, further supporting repatriation efforts.”
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