Get us in your inbox

Qantas air craft
Photograph: Unsplash

Australia is discussing Asian ‘travel bubbles’ to restart flights

Although travel to the UK or US is likely a year away, trips between Australia and Asia might be closer than you think

James Manning

First came the news that Australia’s borders were likely to stay shut until the end of 2020. Then Qantas, Australia’s biggest airline, said it did not expect to fly any international routes until next July – and wouldn’t link Australia to the US or UK until October 2021.

Australian citizens and permanent residents are currently banned from leaving the country and no international travellers are being allowed in, except for those on a short list of exemptions. This means that the country’s tourism industry (already hit badly by bushfires) will miss out on its peak summer season, and that Australians and their families and friends abroad are separated.

But now, at last, there’s a tiny ray of hope for Aussies desperate for a break outside the country: the country’s government is in the early stages of setting up new ‘travel bubbles’ between Australia and other nations in Asia and the Pacific.

What’s the deal with the Australia-Asia travel bubble talks?

Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as Fiji and New Caledonia, have all been mentioned as possible destinations for Australians to visit under potential new arrangements. International travel in Asia is starting to return, with a Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble launching on November 22.

There is, of course, a travel bubble already established between Australia and New Zealand, but it’s a one-way street: Australians currently can’t visit NZ, though Kiwis can visit Australia without quarantining.

According to ABC, the latest talks are still ‘exploratory’ and travellers shouldn’t expect any significant changes for months. But it’s a ray of light for Australians, who have been so desperate to travel that a series of scenic day flights over Antarctica sold out quickly despite sky-high fares.

What about travel between Australia and the rest of the world?

Sad to say, both for Aussies desperate for a break outside the country (or that long-awaited family reunion) and to travellers dreaming of a trip Down Under, widespread travel is probably still a year away.

‘International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year,’ said treasurer Josh Frydenberg in a statement following the annual federal budget in October. This is because Australia is waiting for a vaccine to become widely available before reopening its borders: ‘A vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget.’

Qantas has now pulled its US and UK routes, as well as destinations in South Africa and Chile, from its booking schedule throughout much of next year. The airline was previously selling flights to these destinations from March 2021, but the earliest you can now book a Qantas flight between Australia and the US or UK is October 2021, according to Executive Traveller.

In his budget statement, Frydenberg added that once a vaccine was available, travel was expected to ‘gradually return over time’. But based on the number of people desperate to visit Australia – and Australians waiting to travel overseas again – we’re expecting plenty of pent-up demand.

It’s official: not being able to travel is taking an emotional toll on us.

Where can you travel right now? Here’s what you need to know.

Latest news