Qantas has announced it will reduce flight capacity by over 30 per cent from January through to March, in order to “better match travel demand” amid Australia’s ongoing Omicron outbreak.
The airline announced on Thursday that its planned capacity for the first quarter of the 2022 calendar year will fall from 102 per cent of pre-COVID levels, down to 70 per cent, in light of subdued customer demand and staffing shortages due to COVID-19 isolation.
It comes as Australia reported more than 140,000 new cases of COVID-19 across the country on Thursday.
Qantas said in a statement that schedule changes would focus on reducing frequency and implementing smaller aircraft, in order to reduce unnecessary inconvenience on customers.
Meanwhile, the carrier’s international operations will fall from its planned 30 per cent of pre-COVID capacity down to 20 per cent, as certain countries, including Japan and Thailand, introduce additional travel restrictions to curb their own COVID outbreaks.
Qantas noted that services to London, Los Angeles, and India will be less impacted, and “continue to perform well”.
Impacted customers will be contacted by the airline in the coming days and will be offered alternative flights should a cancellation be required.
Further, Qantas said that despite the disruptions, 100 per cent of staff across Qantas mainline and Jetstar will remain stood up in their roles, to account for absences due to COVID cases and isolation among the workforce.
“We have flexibility to add capacity back if demand improves earlier than expected, but 70 per cent still represents a lot of domestic flying, and it’s a quantum improvement on the levels we faced only a few months ago,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
“The sudden uptick in COVID cases is having an obvious impact on consumer behaviour across various sectors, including travel, but we know it’s temporary,” he added.
“Thankfully, Australia has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates and the Omicron variant is milder than its predecessors. So, as challenging as this current phase is, we’re optimistic that it is likely to fast-track a return to normal.”
The airline CEO said that forward bookings are already strong for the Easter period in April, both domestically and internationally.
“Can I thank our people who have done an outstanding job of helping over a million Australians travel over the summer holidays, and to our customers for their ongoing understanding as we make our way through these latest challenges,” Joyce said.
“This is a difficult time right across the community, but something we’ll get through.”
It comes just days after rival Virgin also revealed it would cut flight capacity for January and February by 25 per cent and place its recently resumed sole international service to Fiji on hold, as it navigates the current Omicron outbreak.
According to the airline, travel demand has subdued due to the new outbreak ripping across Australia, with the country surpassing one million total cases of COVID-19 on Monday, around half of which have been recorded in the last week alone.
Meanwhile, the industry continues to face an ongoing staff shortage, with frontline workers repeatedly sent into seven-day isolation due to being deemed close contacts of confirmed COVID cases.
As a result, Virgin has slashed capacity across its network and suspended all flights on 10 of its routes, including its one international service to Fiji – less than one month after reinstating the service for the first time since the airline entered administration in 2020.
It also comes after airlines were forced to cancel dozens of flights over the holiday period, due to COVID close contact rules sending staff into isolation in droves.
State and federal governments have attempted to curb the chaos, by implementing new vaccination mandates and changing the rules for close contacts.
Aviation workers in NSW will soon be required to receive their booster shot, or third dose, of the COVID-19 vaccine, under new rules introduced by Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday that national cabinet was considering changing close contact rules for frontline aviation workers, to ease pressure on understaffed industries.
Under the new national rules, aviation workers will be allowed to exit isolation and return to work, even if they have been exposed to COVID-19, as long as they are fully vaccinated and show no COVID symptoms.
The federal government has already changed the rules around what constitutes a “close contact” a number of times, in order to reduce pressure on heavily impacted industries and supply chains, to now only include household contacts, or anyone who has spent more than four hours continuously with a positive COVID case.