A Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner is today en route from Istanbul to Darwin. The flight is one of a series of repatriation flights Qantas operates on behalf of the Australian Government to get stranded Australians home. Around 36,000 Australians presently stranded overseas have told the Australian Government they wish to come home.
Nonstop flights between Turkey & Australia are rare
The flight, QF114, departed Istanbul Airport (IST) at 22.01 local time on Sunday, May 23. Passengers will touch down at Darwin Airport (DRW) at 18:55 local time on Monday, May 24. From there, all passengers will directly transfer to a quarantine center to complete 14 days mandatory quarantine.
The 236 seat Boeing 787-9 is VH-ZNE Skippy. The plane will take 14 and a half hours to fly the 7,410 miles between Turkey and Australia. In addition to being a repatriation flight, the flight is notable because nonstop flights between Turkey and Australia are rare, even in normal times.
After crossing over Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea, VH-ZNE tracked over Turkmenistan. Thereafter, the Dreamliner overflew Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the northern fringes of India. From there, it is a direct south-easterly tracking over the Bay of Bengal, Burma, Thailand, the southern Vietnamese coast, Brunei, Borneo, South Sulawesi, Timor Leste, and on into Darwin. At the time of publication, ZH-ZNE was cruising over northeast India at around 37,000 feet.
The latest in a long line of quarantine flights
The Australian Government, via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), has negotiated with Qantas to operate a series of repatriation flights from multiple countries. These flights have now been running for over a year.
On Saturday, another Qantas 787-9 (VH-ZNH) repatriation flight touched down in Darwin. That flight originated in New Delhi. It was the second repatriation flight from India in ten days. Saturday’s flight followed a temporary ban on any arrivals from India, including Australian citizens. Citizens were threatened with fines and jail time if they attempted to circumvent that ban. A third repatriation flight from India is scheduled for next weekend.
With quarantine compulsory in Australia and quarantine beds scarce, DFAT controls who gets first dibs on these flights. Priority goes to those with the highest need to get home. From there, Qantas can sell seats on a first-come, first-served basis. But Qantas is not necessarily allowed to fill the plane. For example, this weekend’s Dreamliner flight from New Delhi carried 165 passengers, despite having 236 seats. Passengers on Saturday’s flight from India paid approximately US$1160 for their tickets and will have to stump up a further US$2320 in quarantine costs.
Qantas notes any passenger on a repatriation flight who is not an Australian citizen or a permanent resident will require a valid visa, and an exemption to the travel ban, to board these flights. The airline also notes they cannot accommodate passengers wishing to transit in Australia.
Not business as usual onboard a repatriation flight
Australia’s flagship airline says service on repatriation flights is “significantly reduced.” Qantas warns only limited food and bottled water is available on repatriation flights. Seat selection is also unavailable, and if you are thinking of collecting some frequent flyer points or status credits on repatriation flights – forget it.
But inflight service reductions arguably would not matter much to stranded Australians trying to get home.
Qantas says passengers must wear face masks for the duration of the flight. On today’s 14 hour plus flight from Turkey, passengers will also need to put on a fresh mask every two hours throughout the flight. The airline is providing these.
Before boarding, in a blitz of paperwork, passengers will need to undergo a COVID-19 test between 48 and 24 hours out and return a negative result. Junior flyers under five years old are exempt. Passengers will need to have completed the Australia Travel Declaration at least 72 hours before travel, a quarantine pre-arrival questionnaire, and complete a health screen form online. Staying cool, calm, and collected while doing all of this is the best policy because Qantas does temperature checks before boarding.
There are a lot of hurdles for Australians trying to get home. At least for one planeload of passengers today, they are on their way.