Qantas Confirms Capacity Cuts As Jittery Passengers Stay Away

Australians attempting to dodge omicron continue to avoid flying even as most states and territories loosen border restrictions. As a result, domestic airlines are scaling back flights. Earlier this week, Virgin Australia confirmed it would cut its domestic capacity by 25% over the next two months. Now, Qantas has said it will also cut its scheduled capacity.

Qantas is cutting capacity as omicron keeps people at home. Photo: Getty Images

Qantas revises flying levels down this quarter

In an update to the Australian Stock Exchange late on Thursday, the Qantas Group said it now anticipated flying about 70% of its pre-pandemic domestic capacity across the January – March quarter. The airline group, which includes Qantas, QantasLink, and Jetstar, had forecast operating at more than 100% pre-pandemic capacity.

“The sudden uptick in COVID cases is having an obvious impact on consumer behavior across various sectors, including travel, but we know it’s temporary,” said CEO Alan Joyce on Thursday.

“We have the flexibility to add capacity back if demand improves earlier than expected, but 70% still represents a lot of domestic flying, and it’s a quantum improvement on the levels we faced only a few months ago.”

This quarter, Qantas Group international flying was expected to operate at around 30% of pre-pandemic levels. The Qantas Group has revised that back to 20%. The airline group says that while the London, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Johannesburg, and India markets are performing well, increased travel restrictions in markets like Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand hamper the group’s performance there.

Citing Cirium data, the Sydney Morning Herald reports in early December Qantas had 63,068 domestic and international flights scheduled over the January – March quarter. By early January, that had fallen to 53,600 flights.

Low-cost subsidiary Jetstar had 27,242 flights scheduled over the same three-month period. That’s now back to 23,955 flights.

Low-cost Qantas Group subsidiary airline is also trimming its flights. Photo: Getty Images

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Worst kept secret confirmed

Earlier this week, Simple Flying flagged several domestic routes launched last year Qantas had later quietly suspended. While the Qantas Group wasn’t at that point publicly talking about capacity cuts, thousands of passengers with imminent flights booked (this writer included) who had flights canceled and rerouted were well aware Qantas was scaling back its flying.

On the good news front, Qantas will continue to keep 100% of its workforce working. With so many employees having to self-isolate, the airline group says a full workforce will act as a buffer and ensure service reliability.

The same Sydney Morning Herald reports also notes passenger traffic through Australia’s big airports of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide was back to 61% of pre-pandemic levels in December. However, this has since declined to 39% in January.

“We can see Australians are now more nervous about boarding a flight, largely because they’re worried about contracting the virus far from home and the risk of having to isolate in another state,” an Australian Airports Association spokeswoman told the newspaper.

“There are also concerns around flight cancellations and holiday experiences being impacted due to continued staff shortages in major tourist destinations.”

Passenger traffic through Australia’s big airports in January has also declined. Photo: Getty Images

On Monday, rival Virgin Australia confirmed it was trimming its capacity by 25% across the next two months. The airline said it would achieve this by reducing frequencies on some high-frequency routes and temporarily suspending flights on ten routes.

A Regional Express (Rex) spokesperson says their current schedule reflects current passenger demand.