Stranded Australians bracing for their flights home to be cancelled are furious at the prospect of having to join the bottom of the queue for government assistance to return, as international airlines are told they can only allow as few as five passengers on to their planes to comply with Australia’s soon to be halved arrival cap.
Airlines have even been allocated “zero” passenger allowances for some flights, meaning they will have to fly empty planes into Australia.
Airlines flying zero passenger flights will have to rely on carrying cargo and outbound passengers to make the routes financially sustainable, however some are expected to halt services to Australia entirely as a result of the new caps.
Rather than cleanly halving the number of passengers each flight can carry, the new passenger limits, which airlines must comply with by 14 July, appear to incentivise airlines decreasing route frequency to allow them to group their passenger allowances into fewer, more financially sustainable flights.
One-third of all flights into Sydney have been given zero passenger allocations, while the remainder will only be allowed to carry between 25-26 passengers. Sydney’s weekly flight cap will be halved to 1,505 from 14 July – the largest of any airport.
Between 14 July and the end of August, a handful of flights into Melbourne will be cut to zero, with most flights limited to 11 to 13 passengers.
Across Brisbane and Perth, passenger limits vary from as few as five passengers per flight, up to 12 passengers per flights for airlines that adjust their frequencies.
In the days since national cabinet decided on Friday to cut Australia’s weekly quarantine intake from 6,070 to 3,035 – a lower intake than when the initial cap of 4,000 was first introduced last July – prices for remaining seats into Australia have skyrocketed.
As a result, prices for one-way economy flights from London to Sydney on some airlines have risen to as much as $36,000 from when the new caps come into effect on 14 July, while other airlines have halted sales into Australia until further details about their passenger allowances become clear.
Thousands of those with tickets already booked are expected to be bumped and join the list of the 34,500 Australians who are currently registered with the government as wanting to return home but being unable to do so.
Spokespeople for All Nippon Airways and Cathay Pacific have told the Guardian that disruption was imminent, while Etihad and Singapore Airlines spokespeople have indicated the airlines would continue flying to Australia despite the new limitations.
Airlines have estimated 18,000 people will be bumped by the end of August. However, when the cuts to the caps were announced last Friday, Scott Morrison indicated they could remain halved until next year, in line with the vaccination-aligned stages of reopening Australia.