Qantas and Virgin have agreed to keep operating flights from London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland for the next four weeks, in order to help get Australians home during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a deal struck with the Morrison government, Australia's two major airlines will continue to fly into the four key international hubs to provide a "backbone" of travel options for stranded Australians, as commercial airlines slash flights due to worldwide travel restrictions.
The federal government will underwrite the cost of the empty outbound flight, and also subsidise the cost of the inbound flight if there are not enough sales to make it commercially viable.
In a statement, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the locations were chosen to provide a way home to the largest number of overseas Australians possible.
"Many Australians will be able to get to one of these four destinations. They can do so knowing there will be an Australian airline to get them home," Senator Payne said.
And while the four-week period could be extended, Senator Payne said Australians should not hesitate if they have an opportunity to take commercial flights home.
"We recognise that, in some cases, this will not be possible. We will continue to work closely with airlines and our overseas consular assistance network in these situations," Senator Payne said.
Senator Payne said the government would consider further mercy flights as required.
"Where there are no commercial options available, the government will consider supporting, on a case-by-case basis, non-scheduled services to other overseas destinations," Senator Payne said.
"We are continuing our constructive discussions with Qantas and Virgin on flights to less accessible destinations, including South America and the Pacific."
Mr McCormack said the deal would also provide much-needed freight capacity to Australian exporters and importers to these destinations.
It comes as Virgin Australia asks the government for a $1.4 billion bailout, in order to survive the COVID-19 crisis. Qantas is opposed to the move, but has asked for similar assistance if Virgin receives help to "keep the playing field level".
The aviation industry has already received more than $1 billion in support over the past few weeks.