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Exclusive: Airlines cancelled 4k flights in January

written by Hannah Dowling | February 22, 2022

Image by Seth Jaworski

Australia’s airlines were forced to cancel over 4,000 flights throughout January as the country’s Omicron cases hit their peak, Australian Aviation can reveal.

According to new data released by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE), around 12 per cent of all scheduled flights in January were ultimately cancelled, just as airlines began to increase domestic capacity following eased border restrictions.

According to BITRE, just over 35,000 flights were scheduled to take off in January, of which 4,150 were ultimately cancelled.

Comparatively, a similar number of flights were also scheduled in December, with just 2,659 ultimately cancelled, or 7.6 per cent.

The report states that flight cancellations were highest on the Sydney-Melbourne route, with 24.5 per cent of all flights on this route cancelled over the month, followed by the Melbourne-Sydney route at 24.4 per cent.

Brisbane-Sydney saw the third highest cancellation rate at 23.7 per cent, then Sydney-Brisbane at 23.4 per cent and the Canberra-Sydney route at 20.1 per cent.

BITRE noted that “COVID-19 related requirements” have continued to impact the high number of flight cancellations.

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The number of flight cancellations has been trending upwards since August, when Australia’s daily COVID cases began to steadily increase. Case numbers hit their recent peak of over 175,000 new cases nationally in a single day on 12 January.

Just days before this peak, Virgin Australia formally announced 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, due to the impact of the Omicron outbreak.

According to the airline at the time, travel demand had subdued due to the new outbreak ripping across Australia, as the country passed one million overall cases.

Meanwhile, the industry continued 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 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.

Qantas soon followed suit with a similar announcement, stating it will cut flight capacity by over 30 per cent from January through to March, in order to “better match travel demand” in the Omicron operating environment.

The airline announced 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.

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.

Around this time, Australian Aviation also reported that 78 flights arriving and departing from Sydney airport were cancelled in one day, due to staff shortages.

The disruption affected both domestic and international flights from airlines including Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Cathay, FlyPelican and Delta.

Meanwhile, that same day, 47 flights were cancelled at Melbourne Airport and 48 at Brisbane.

Comments (2)

  • Steve A

    says:

    Deputy WA Premier Cook has ‘invited’ QF CEO Alan Joyce to WA to “eat humble pie”.
    Has hell frozen over?
    Have you seen pigs flying?
    Are you on drugs?
    These 3 things will all have to occur simultaneously for Alan Joyce to Eat Humble Pie. And even then it is unlikely to happen.

  • peter

    says:

    The airlines were not ‘FORCED’ to cancel any flights, they accepted the narrative and ‘CHOSE’ to cancel flights of their own volition. What we believe to be true and why is entirely up to each and everyone of us, no one else to ‘BLAME’ then for what we do. Same for airline managers.

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