Qantas has revealed around 320 pilots are calling in sick each day as the airline battles to keep service levels up amid COVID-19 isolation rules.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said on Thursday that “no business” could have coverage in reserve to account for that level of staff absence.
It comes days after it was revealed domestic aviation in July suffered another record month for poor performance, with Qantas alone seeing just 45.3 per cent of flights depart on time.
Joyce said the airline has attempted to mitigate the effects of sickness by reducing the number of services.
“We have a lot more reserves, a lot more coverage to take account of that,” said Joyce. “You couldn’t plan for that six months ago, when we put the schedule in place.
“Nobody was thinking that there would be this level of a spike. There was, and we’ve adapted and changed to cope with that.”
During the pandemic, Qantas made around 10,000 employees redundant but has since begun hiring thousands of workers back. It has led to criticism the airline cut too hard during COVID-19 despite the JobKeeper scheme being in place.
“We knew the recovery was coming, and we were ready for the restart,” said Joyce. “What we weren’t ready for — after 18 months of COVID being suppressed – was such high levels of community transmission and the sick leave that followed. Neither were many of our industry partners.
“The rebound in travel demand also coincided with a massive labour shortage. Of course, that shortage has been more acute in aviation because of how many people left the industry during two very uncertain years.
“It’s the same story at airlines and airports around the world. All of this resulted in well-publicised problems: long queues delayed flights and misplaced bags.
“It was incredibly tough for our people and deeply frustrating for our passengers.
“Qantas’ mishandled bag rate reached 11 in 1,000 in July, but it’s now down to 6 in 1,000. That’s almost back to pre-COVID levels and will be at pre-COVID levels in September.
“Cancellations reached 7.5 per cent in July but fell below 5 per cent in August and will be back to pre-COVID levels in September.
“On time performance was 52 per cent and is now 66 per cent. That’s still not good enough and we expect it in the mid-70s, or higher, in September – on its way back to pre-COVID levels of 80.
“This does depend on some factors out of our control — like extreme weather events or air traffic control — but the operation will be a lot more robust overall.”
In 2022, Qantas has faced a string of problems, including huge delays at Easter, hours-long call wait times, and even a revelation that the cabin crew of a Qantas A330 were made to sleep across seats in economy. Last year, the Federal Court ruled the Flying Kangaroo was wrong to outsource 2,000 ground handling roles and subsequently rejected an initial appeal.
The troubles led to Joyce on Sunday issuing a ‘formal apology’ to frequent flyers for the airline’s post-pandemic struggles.