Qantas, the Australian flag carrier, announced this week that they would require all travelers on its flights to have a COVID-19 vaccine. A move that would surely be Qantas’ undoing.
Qantas Makes an Announcement
The Australian flag carrier, Qantas, announced this week that in 2021, the airline would require passengers to demonstrate they have received one of the coronavirus vaccines. While Australia as a country has indicated mixed recommendations regarding mandatory vaccination as an entry requirement, Qantas has made its position clear, “no jab, no fly.”
Much of The Global Community Rejects Vaccine Conceptually
Despite efforts to curb the spread of the virus globally, few nations have been successful. One of those nations has been Australia who shares a travel bubble with like-minded neighbor New Zealand.
The current policy for entering Australia solely allows for a mandatory 14-day quarantine with no waivers for Australian nationals nor international visitors. Digital health passes have also been floated but are essentially just proof that a vaccine has been administered and will not encourage those that are leery of the vaccines in development.
While the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is trying to restart travel through a series of Covid-19 testing protocols (up to three), but has also embraced Australia’s approach. They recognize that border restrictions are unsustainable for their business – international travel – for the long term.
In Australia, there’s more support for the vaccine than in the US but resistance is a “significant” part of the picture. The Australian National University found a “high level” of hesitancy to the remedies with 13% highly unlikely to get a vaccine for COVID-19 while and further 28% have said they probably will but can’t be sure. Just over half (58%) have stated they will almost certainly get the vaccine (despite not knowing which of the five candidate medicines will be chosen, nor the potential side effects or efficacy.)
Between 34-67% of all Americans (depending on the poll) indicated skepticism or outright rejection of taking a vaccine for the virus. It doesn’t fall along party lines either. Notably, Vice President-elect Harris has said she would be unlikely to take a vaccine developed under President Trump’s administration. She’s not alone, 49% of black Americans are uninterested taking the vaccine.
For those that have expressed their hesitation, it’s not as political as one might think,
“Usually when something comes out for the first time, it’s not exactly right,” said Bell. “And of course, me being Black, you know, you get the flashbacks to what they did to the Black people back in the ’20s, ’30s,’40s. How they used them as guinea pigs.”
A separate poll found a nearly identical sentiment:
“I don’t plan on being anyone’s guinea pig,” said Ebony Dew, an independent from Capitol Heights, Maryland. “I don’t plan on getting it at all.” She continued ““I feel like their testing is a trial and error,” Dew said. “And I also feel that they don’t really know all that much about this virus, so how can they create a cure for it just yet?”
Rather than solely conservatives who doubt the veracity of the information given about the virus, it’s Democrats that indicated hesitation based on the rush basis of the vaccine.
“The poll of 1,000 voters follows similar surveys in the past month that indicate as many as one-third of Americans would decline a vaccine, fueled by mistrust of the Trump administration’s push to speed up its development as well as a sizable slice of the country that generally opposes immunizations of any kind.”
Many vaccines have side effects which can range from mild to severe, but the quick development (most vaccines take from 8-12 years to develop and vet vs. 10 months in the case of the current three) is cause for concerns on both sides of the aisle.
The American reaction is key not just as part of Qantas market (the US is one of their most lucrative destinations) but also because it demonstrates hesitation outside of the Oceania region. No other carrier has taken the same bold move including like-minded (and travel bubble buddy) Air New Zealand.
That’s a problem for Qantas and carriers like it.
Why This Would Be, Could Be The End of Qantas
As an airline, the carrier can be altruistic, as a business it cannot. In 2019 Qantas posted a gross revenue of $17.97bn AUD and pre-tax profits of $1.27bn AUD or about 7%. It’s worth noting that 2019 was peak travel and is unlikely to be matched in 2021 even if the virus becomes completely vanquished from the world simply because businesses will travel less. Consumers will also have less discretionary money, eliminating air traveling from many household budgets.
But that’s not going to be the case no matter what happens. Even if the vaccine is widely available, many won’t take it and consumers have gotten on without flying Qantas this year, they will be able to do it in 2021 too.
There’s simply too few people that are willing to take the vaccine in the near future, some, perhaps ever. There’s also a contingent of the population that will still be reluctant to travel despite a vaccine, rigorous testing, or the overall subsiding of the virus. That’s simply far too many customers for Qantas to exclude
One travel agency in the UK said this in response to Qantas’ announcement:
We have made a company decision today to not sell any @Qantas flights, even on a code share, following their announcement of no vaccination, no flight. There are far superior airlines with flights to #Australia
— Tradewinds Travel (@UKTwinds) November 23, 2020
Qantas simply doesn’t have the luxury of choosing which of its customers it will continue to serve. The carrier isn’t profitable enough for those choices – none of them were even pre-pandemic.
As the agency pointed out, there’s no shortage of carriers to Australia, and should the country mandate proof of inoculation, it’s likely tourism will drop rather than all travelers agreeing to take a vaccine out of an innate desire to surf Bondi beach.
Why It Won’t Be
Since support for the agency in UK began showing up on Twitter, IATA distanced itself from its initial backing of the move. Agencies like IATA, airlines like Qantas – every business in the travel sector is seeking any path to resume business as usual. Talking to my colleagues in other airlines, it seems unlikely they will alienate any portion of their remaining customer base.
If Qantas had the temerity to enforce such terms and conditions on its clientele, they would most certainly exclude themselves from some portion of the market and create a position from which the airline would not recover. If the country were to require vaccination, that would help level the playing field against other carriers offering flights to Australia without a vaccination requirement.
But it won’t come to that either. Qantas may be able to socially distance itself from customers and profits for some time, but Australia relies heavily on overseas business and won’t be able to close itself off indefinitely.
Qantas won’t be able to hold onto an optional restriction at the risk of the business shutting down. The company has shareholders and employees along with vendors that all depend on its survival. The Australian government is also unlikely to let the airline fail, just as US airlines have seen support from taxpayers.
It’s possible that Qantas is trying to secure a first-mover advantage of leading the way for all airlines going forward. It could be a case of trying to work in lockstep with the Australian government and form a unified front. It could also be as simple as virtue-signaling to a sympathetic audience. I believe that Qantas genuinely believes in protecting the passengers aboard its aircraft and the best way the carrier sees to protect the people who fly is by requiring a vaccine. But unless Australia mandates such a requirement, Qantas is not well-positioned to help rebuild its embattled business. If the country does mandate such a requirement, then Qantas has no advantage over any other carrier flying to, from, and within the continent. Other than demonstrating their forward approach, the movement can only hurt the carrier.
What do you think? Would mandating a vaccinated customer base kill the airline? Will Qantas recant its position? Should others follow its lead?