Qantas Ends Strikes; Flights Resume Monday

Qantas Airways returned to the skies Monday after a government tribunal ordered the airline to lift the grounding of its entire fleet by Fair Work Australia (FWA), which had stranded thousands of people around the world during the weekend, the New York Times and other sources are reporting.

Prime Minster Julia Gillard repeatedly accused the airline of "extremist behavior" for grounding its fleet when it had other options, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. She reportedly made her feelings known in a phone call to the airline's chief executive, Alan Joyce.

Qantas is now expected to embark on a ''recovery phase'' aimed at winning back thousands of customers lost to rivals such as Virgin Australia during the highly charged dispute (expect lower fares and more flexible tickets). While Joyce apologized to customers, he played down suggestions that the airline's relationship with the federal government had been damaged.

A flight from Sydney to Jakarta departed shortly after the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia cleared it for takeoff Monday afternoon.

The resumption of service by Qantas followed 48 hours of travel chaos that left as many as 70,000 passengers stuck in airports around the globe, straining the airline’s relationship with its customers and drawing the ire of the Australian government.

In a statement, Qantas warned international customers to expect delays until at least Tuesday evening, Australian time. But it said domestic services would be running as scheduled from Tuesday morning.

A representative of Tourism Australia told Travel Agent that everything was "back to normal now," and Tourism Australia Managing Director Andrew McEvoy welcomed the decision. “This is a breakthrough for Australian tourism—an industry which generates $250 million a day in spending for our economy,” McEvoy said in a statement. “The decision provides certainty for tourism operators and, most importantly for the tourism industry, allowing Qantas to progressively resume flights. Australian tourism is open for business and we need to ensure whatever existing damage to our industry can now be minimised. There will be a backlog to clear, in particular from our international markets.” Interestingly, he added, the airline has become "very good at clearing backlogs" given recent issues such as the volcanic ash cloud. He expects normal service to resume within the next 24 hours.

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