Virgin Australia has said it will slash its 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.
Despite the myriad of schedule changes, chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said the measures will not impact the business or its customers long-term.
“One thing we have learnt from the last two years is that we need to keep adapting as circumstances change. So, we will continue to do that, and have made some temporary changes to our network to manage the current environment,” Hrdlicka said.
“We do know that as we make the shift to living with COVID-19, there will continue to be changes in all our lives and we look forward to continuing to connect our guests with their families, friends, colleagues.
“We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused to any guest impacted by the changes to our flight schedule during this time.”
The suspended routes are:
- Adelaide-Sunshine Coast
- Coffs Harbour-Melbourne
- Hamilton Island-Melbourne
- Gold Coast-Launceston
- Gold Coast-Hobart
Customers with existing bookings on impacted services will be “re-accommodated”, according to Virgin, and the airline encourages affected customers to reach out for more information.
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It comes after thousands of Australians faced the prospect of having their Christmas flight plans impacted, with dozens of flights cancelled during the holiday period as COVID cases began to surge, sending an increasing number of aviation staff into self-isolation due to being deemed close contacts of other COVID-positive cases.
A Jetstar spokesman said at the time, “Unfortunately, like many people in Sydney and Melbourne, a large number of our frontline team are being required to test and isolate as close contacts given the increasing number of cases in the general community, and as a result, we have had to make some late adjustments to our schedule.
“We appreciate the frustration this causes, especially as customers are travelling for Christmas, and sincerely apologise for the impact these changes are having on travel plans.
“We are working to minimise any delays and re-accommodating passengers on flights as close as possible to their original departure times across both Jetstar and Qantas services.”
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.
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