Christmas reunions could be off the cards for some West Australians, after Qantas announced it would delay introducing more flights between Perth and both Sydney and Melbourne due to WA’s border restrictions.
The airline is also postponing the resumption of its direct Perth-London route.
Limited flights currently operate on routes between Perth and both Sydney and Melbourne, and more flights will not be added until at least the beginning of February.
In a statement, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the changes followed talks with WA authorities.
"Based on our discussions with Western Australia we know their borders won't be open to New South Wales and Victoria until early next year, so we've sadly had to cancel the flying we had planned on those routes in the lead-up to Christmas," he said.
Qantas said it would continue to conduct return flights between Perth and both Melbourne and Sydney five times a week to maintain "minimum connections" for those who are granted permission to travel into WA.
"At this stage, WA doesn't intend to open to international travel until sometime next year, so we'll unfortunately have to temporarily move our Perth-London service until at least April 2022," Mr Joyce said.
Qantas had flagged the possible change in late August, but confirmed the decision on Monday.
Mr Joyce said the London flight would instead depart from Melbourne and stop in either Darwin or Singapore, depending on the outcome of conversations with Northern Territory authorities.
"We look forward to operating this flight via Perth again when circumstances allow," Mr Joyce said.
Qantas said it was still on track to "gradually restart" international travel from December 18.
Mr Joyce said in August it would be a "terrible shame" if people could travel to London before they could travel to Perth – a comment WA Premier Mark McGowan swiftly rejected at the time.
Keeping WA safe 'remains top priority'
In a statement, the WA government said the changes to the Perth to London route were only temporary and it looked forward to the flights returning when it was safe to do so.
"In time, when our vaccination rate is high enough, it will be safe for the Perth-London route to resume, as well as travel from Sydney and Melbourne," a spokesperson said.
The government said it was natural there was a strong appetite for travel, but it was following health advice.
"Our priority is to use this time to get as many people vaccinated as possible and see high levels of vaccinations to keep the WA community safe," the spokesperson said.
"WA will not be pressured by the Liberals and Nationals to remove border controls against health advice."
The state budget, unveiled earlier this month, assumed a "gradual reopening" of international borders between July and September 2022.
'A tough day for West Australians'
Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall said there had been a big expectation people would be able to get back together for Christmas.
"Today's announcement from Qantas is a tough day for Western Australians looking forward to getting back together with friends and family over Christmas and for the tourism industry, particularly here in Perth, for whom summer school holidays is our peak season for interstate visitors coming into WA," he said.
Mr Hall said clearly the expectation from Qantas was they would not be able to conduct those interstate and overseas flights until February and April respectively.
He said the tourism industry in WA was down 40 per cent and businesses like city hotels needed more support.
"We've had a great weekend with the AFL grand final, but they're not all grand final weekends," he said.[Zendesk COVID form embed]