The Australian government has announced in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that all international travellers, including Australian citizens and residents, arriving to Australia will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
Foreign cruise ships have also been banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.
“Based on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the National Cabinet agreed that our core objective now is to slow the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia by taking additional steps to reduce community transmission,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
The movements follow in the footsteps of countries such as New Zealand, which has also imposed the need for all travellers, including New Zealand citizens and residents, entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days over the weekend.
Meanwhile, travellers entering Singapore with a recent travel history to any ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, Japan, Switzerland, or the UK within the last 14 days will be issued with a 14-day stay-home notice.
So, what does this mean for travellers and airlines? Below is a list of airlines that operate within the Asia Pacific and details about what they’re doing.
Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand announced on Monday it has entered into a trading halt to “allow it time to more fully assess the operational and financial impacts of global travel restrictions”.
The company said it will reduce the capacity of its long haul network by 85% over the coming months to allow Kiwis to return home and to keep trade corridors with Asia and North America open, with domestic network capacity to be reduced by around 30% in April and May. No routes will be suspended, however.
As a result, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said the company would continue to review its cost base and need to start the process of redundancies for permanent positions.
“We are now accepting that for the coming months at least Air New Zealand will be a smaller airline requiring fewer resources, including people. We have deployed a range of measures, such as leave without pay and asking those with excess leave to take it, but these only go so far. We are working on redeployment opportunities for some of our staff within the airline and also to support other organisations,” he said.
The Kiwi airline also announced that customers with international flights affected by COVID-19 government-imposed restrictions that are due to depart up until March 31 will be eligible to receive a refund, hold the value of their fare in credit for 12 months from the time of ticket purchase; or amend the date of their flight without change fees but be charged a price difference between the new and old fare.
Similarly, Qantas also has plans to cut international flights, bringing the company’s total international capacity reduction for Qantas and Jetstar to 23%, which will be extended until mid-September.
The airline added domestically, Qantas and Jetstar capacity reductions will be 5% until mid-September. In total, this is the equivalent of grounding 38 Qantas and Jetstar aircraft across the international and domestic network.
Despite the changes, the group still maintains that it holds a “strong position”.
“The Qantas Group is a strong business in a challenging environment. We have a robust balance sheet, low debt levels and most of our profit comes from the domestic market. We’re in a good position to ride this out, but we need to take steps to maintain this strength,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said.
In response to imposed travel restrictions, Qantas is, until May 31, offering customers with existing bookings on domestic or international Qantas, QantasLink, and Jetstar the option to cancel their flight in exchange for a travel credit voucher.
Qantas customers can redeem the travel vouchers up to 12 months from the original booking, while Jetstar customers can redeem within six months of issues for travel and within 12 months of the new booking date. Qantas and Jetstar will waive the change fee when customers rebook.
The impact of the COVID-19 travel restrictions has been less severe for Virgin Australia.
“As a largely domestic airline, we are less exposed to the impact on international travel, however we remain disciplined in our focus on managing capacity in response to forward bookings and continuing to reduce costs across the business,” the company CEO and managing director Paul Scurrah said.
Nonetheless, Virgin will cut its domestic capacity by 5% for 2H20, an increase on the initial 3% reduction the company had announced at the end of last month due to decreased demand and forward bookings.
International capacity will be reduced by 8% in 2H20, the company added. This is in addition to the group’s recent decision to withdraw from Hong Kong services.
As a result, Virgin Group said it will suspend its earning guidance for FY20.
For customers wishing to change their travel due to COVID-19, Virgin Australia is offering Virgin and Tigaerair guests with new and existing domestic and international bookings to June 30 the option to change their flight to a later date, as well as the option to pick a different destination, without incurring any change fees.
If passengers are due to travel within four weeks, Virgin Australia and Tigerair guests can also cancel their domestic or international travel without incurring a fee and receive the full value of their booking in form of a travel voucher, valid for 12 months.
The company also noted it will also directly contact guests with any changes to their bookings and offer alternative travel arrangements, including refunds for any routes that the group is no longer servicing.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) said as it continues to review its waiver policy, customers have the option to cancel their existing flight itineraries for travel up to May 31 and receive a travel voucher to rebook travel at a later date based on a new flight itinerary that the airline will release by 31 March 2021. All rebooking fees for tickets issued on or before March 15 for travel up to May 31 will be waived, although the cost of any fare difference will be applied.
All new SIA and SilkAir tickets issued from now to March 31, SIA will also waive change fees.
“SIA will continue to review its waiver policy and retains the flexibility to extend the cut-off date of 31 May 2020 as it assesses the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on global air travel in the coming weeks,” the company wrote.
According to Emirates, passengers who have made bookings on or before March 31 have the option to adjust travel dates free of charge, but will have to pay any fare difference between the new and old ticket.
“With the current developing conditions around the globe, we understand that your travel plans might change. So we’re giving you the flexibility to reschedule your trip with no change fees,” Emirates said in a statement.
Etihad Airways said it is giving travellers “peace of mind” by allowing one complimentary date or destination change for all flights booked between March 8 and April 7 which will be valid for all fares including guest redemptions and Etihad holiday bookings. Any fare difference as a result of rebooking or rerouting will be applied.
AirAsia is giving passengers who are unable to travel due to respective travel bans as a result of COVID-19 the option to move their flight to a new date on the same route within 90 calendar days from the original flight time without an additional cost or a credit voucher, which can be redeemed within 12 months from the issuance date. The options are being offered to passengers who have flights tickets prior to March 7, for flight departure until April 30.
“AirAsia assures that the safety and wellbeing of our guests and Allstars is our top priority. AirAsia is complying with advice and regulations from the local government, civil aviation authorities, global and local health agencies, including the World Health Organisation,” the company said.
“AirAsia is closely monitoring the public health situation and reserves the right to announce further policies according to the latest developments.”
Qatar Airways has launched “maximum flexibility” policy to enable passengers that have booked for travel up to June 30 the option to change their travel free of charge, or exchange their ticket for a travel voucher valid for one year.
“Although we maintain the very highest standards of hygiene across all parts of the business, we recognise that some passengers may wish to alter their existing travel plans. We hope this new policy, alongside our robust hygiene practices and safety record, will allow our passengers to travel with confidence,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Bakar said.
Cathay Pacific passengers have the opportunity to make free and unlimited changes to all tickets issued between March 9 and April 20, the company announced. Under the conditions, all travel must be completed on or before 28 February 2021 and applies to Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon tickets only.
The Hong Kong airline added passengers who booked before March 9 are also able to alter their booking, but fees may apply.
The announcement comes a week after chairman Patrick Healey said the company expects the first half of 2020 to be “extremely challenging financially”.
“It is difficult to predict when these conditions will improve. Travel demand has dropped substantially and we have taken a series of short term measures in response. These have included a sharp reduction of capacity in our passenger network. Despite these measures we expect to incur a substantial loss for the first half of 2020,” he said.
“We expect our passenger business to be under severe pressure this year and that our cargo business will continue to face headwinds.”
In a company update made last Friday, Japan Airlines said as a result of a decrease in travel demand and implementation of travel restrictions, it will reduce, suspend, or change several flights across its network that were due to fly up until March 28.
The company said it will waive any fees associated with cancellations and data changes for travel departing up to April 5. For routes travelling to and from China, the waived fees are extended until 20 April.
At the time of writing, the novel coronavirus has infected over 153,000 globally, according to the World Health Organization, with 5,746 fatalities recorded thus far.
Updated 16 March 2020, 4:21pm (AEDT): Additional information about Virgin Australia’s compensation for its customers has been included.