Airlines servicing certain routes into Australia – such as from London or Dubai – are being warned against overcharging stranded residents trying to get home.
After Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday that Australia will temporarily reduce its intake of international passengers by 50 per cent from July 14 from 6000 per week to just 3000, there are concerns some carriers could bump up fares significantly or stop passenger flights to Australia altogether.
In a recent search from London to Sydney on popular booking platform Webjet, ticket prices across the month of July jumped from as little as $5229 for one-way ticket in economy, to $36,499 just days later on July 14.
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The reduction of inbound passengers is in response to Australia’s current battle against the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19, as well as a welcome move in alleviating the pressure on quarantine facilities around the country.
The passenger cap change will come as a big hit to around 34,000 Australians still waiting to return home from overseas, with some concerned the reduced intake will only force prices to jump higher to unaffordable figures.
Just this weekend, following Mr Morrison’s passenger cap annoouncement — Rebecca Vickers, who has been living in Chicago, made an emotional plea on social mediso she could afford the $24,000 plane ticket home.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has since warned airlines they should not use the new passenger limits as a way of cashing in on those desperate to return home.
“I hope there is nobody who seeks a commercial advantage from difficult circumstances and that’s a strong, clear message,” he said on Saturday.
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While there are fears of increased prices, some experts also warn airlines may suspend flights into Australia altogether in response to the new caps.
Earlier this year, Emirates suspended many of their international flights into and out of Australia after citing “operational reasons”. The flights were resumed days later however, the suspension happened at the same time in January that Australia’s international arrival caps were also slashed by almost half.
Currently, online searches for flights from Dubai to Sydney, which Emirates currently services, Emirates were advertising one-way tickets around $10,000.
When contacted by news.com.au, Emirates declined to comment.
Travellers wanting to get from London to Sydney around July 14, on board American Airlines, Malaysia Airlines or United Airlines when the travel caps will be halved, will have to pay anywhere from $5229 to almost $36,500 for flights with multiple layovers.
According to Nine Newspapers, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, which represents 33 major international carriers, hit out at the government to suggest airlines may be taking advantage of customers.
“Ultimately most airlines are actually bleeding cashflow losses – this is not about trying to make a profit, it’s just about recovering your direct operating costs of running the services,” the board’s executive director Barry Abrams said, adding any suggestion of price gouging amid the pandemic was “insulting and bizarre”.
“If you’re doing a flight every day, you might be allocated 25 passengers for five of those flights and then you might get allocated zero passengers for two flights.”
Speaking to The Guardian,Mr Abrams said the new caps will put a whole new level of pressure on airlines.
“It is going to be a very difficult situation for many airlines to maintain their frequency of flights to Australia,” Mr Abrams said.
“Many will be asking whether or not it makes more sense to suspend their passenger flights or just run cargo flights. I wouldn’t see it as cutting Australia off [but] I would see reduced connectivity and availability of flights to and from Australia.”
Mr Abrams said the airline industry had not been consulted before Friday’s announcement by the federal government around revised flight caps, and rejected any suggestion that fare hikes were in response to the slashed flight caps.
“As international airlines, we would see it as quite an insult,” Mr Abrams said.
“They have continued to operate throughout the pandemic under extremely difficult commercial conditions and many large multinationals continue to bleed large cash flow losses.
“Any notion they have been profiteering or gouging is just bizarre.”