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Qantas sees demand rebound as borders open

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Qantas chief Alan Joyce is worried varying rules in different states could hurt a rebound in travel demand and confidence as borders reopen after Australia hit major milestones in COVID-19 vaccination rates.

The national carrier has seen close to 500,000 domestic bookings in the past two weeks, Mr Joyce told shareholders on Friday.

The surge in demand for flights follows the country's two biggest states - NSW and Victoria - reopening borders last month.

It compares with 20,000 bookings over a two-week period in August.

"Domestically, the crucial Melbourne-Sydney route has started to ramp up," he told the company's annual general meeting.

"And most states have outlined their plans to open their borders before Christmas, one of the busiest travel times of the year."

But Mr Joyce criticised the varying time frames, quarantine mandates and repeated testing requirements in different states.

For example, Queensland will only scrap quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated domestic travellers when it hits 80 per cent, or by December 17 at the latest.

Meanwhile, Western Australia will wait until as late as early-February to reopen its interstate borders but fully vaccinated travellers will still need to return a negative test.

Such conditions were frustrating for vaccinated travellers who would reasonably expect to move freely and easily, Mr Joyce said.

"Hopefully these conditions, particularly PCR testing at every turn, is dispensed with as Australia becomes more confident living with COVID."

The recovery in travel demand follows a harrowing year of losses amid diabolical conditions as the coronavirus pandemic weighs on the airline's fortunes.

Qantas reported a full-year net loss to $1.73 billion in August, despite axing 9400 jobs and standing down another 8000-odd employees, delivering savings of $650 million and cutting its total debt.

With international borders closed for all of 2020/21 and only 30 days without some type of domestic travel restriction, passenger numbers were down by more than 70 per cent compared with the pre-COVID period.

The airline was grilled by shareholders over its massive job cuts, including outsourcing its entire ground handling operations, but it said the drastic moves were necessary to ensure its survival.

Chairman Richard Goyder told shareholders the pandemic would likely have cost the airline more than $20 billion worth of revenue by the end of this calendar year.

"It's a staggering number and it's remarkable that the business has managed to deal with this as well as it has," Mr Goyder said.

Qantas resumed international flights to Los Angeles and London this week after Australia reopened its borders to citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members on Monday, after more than 18 months.

Demand for seats on Qantas' London to Sydney service have been very strong, while Jetstar's recent international sale saw 75,000 seats sold in 72 hours, Mr Joyce said.

Even domestically, bookings to South Australia increased more than sixfold since its premier outlined the lifting of travel restrictions late last month.

Bookings to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns have also jumped tenfold in the past two weeks.

Qantas Loyalty recorded its single biggest day for flight redemptions in October, with more than half a billion points spent on 15,000 domestic and international seats in 24 hours.

"A return to scale is good news for all customers, because it means we can reopen lounges and bring more aircraft back into service," Mr Joyce said.

Meanwhile, the airline is expanding its domestic network with the announcement of two new routes. QantasLink will begin flights between Adelaide and Newcastle, as well as Wagga Wagga and Brisbane from March next year.

Qantas shares closed 0.7 per cent lower at $5.62.

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