Flight cancellations have hampered Australian airlines and their passengers over the holiday period. Airlines are finding themselves suddenly short-staffed owing to new COVID-19 testing and isolation rules. But at least one local airline has dodged the wave of cancellations and kept its holiday schedules intact.
Rex has maintained its schedules over the holiday period
Speaking on ABC Breakfast Radio on Tuesday morning, Regional Express (Rex) Deputy Chairman John Sharp said a combination of factors was affecting the airlines’ ability to crew flights. However, so far, Rex was flying through relatively unscathed.
“Quite a few flights have been canceled,” said Mr Sharp. “Fortunately, Rex hasn’t had to cancel any of our flights. We’ve had the ability to crew all our flights and run our schedule as published, but that hasn’t been the case with the other airlines.”
Competitors Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Qantas have all canceled flights over the Christmas weekend. According to FlightAware, Virgin Australia canceled 26 flights (or 5% of all scheduled flights) and delayed a further 70 flights on Monday.
Jetstar also canceled 26 flights (or 8% of all scheduled flights) and delayed a further 51 flights. Qantas fared slightly better, only canceling two flights but delaying 25 flights.
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A combination of good luck & management at Rex
The omicron variant are cutting a swathe through Sydney. New testing and stay-at-home orders are playing havoc with the ability of airlines (and many other industries with high levels of frontline workers) to maintain their crew rosters.
“They’ve had some difficulties in getting crews to operate those (canceled) flights),” Mr Sharp said when asked why cancellations were occurring. “Those crews have been possibly a close contact and have to isolate, or alternatively, have coronavirus and are not well enough or shouldn’t work.
“The other thing is some people in the industry have a big concern that they might become a close contact if they go to work, so they’ve decided not to go to work – there’s a combination of factors.”
While Rex has got lucky so far, John Sharp acknowledged that his airline’s luck could run out. He says Rex has fully vaccinated all its frontline staff. But there’s always the risk flights can get canceled. However, he notes airlines run that risk every day, not just this week.
“At this stage, we work on the basis that if you have everybody in your frontline staff double vaccinated, you have a reasonable chance of avoiding them being caught up in this,” he said.
Virgin Australia, Jetstar, and Qantas all also require frontline and airport-based team members to be fully vaccinated.
Rex calls for a change to COVID testing requirements
Meanwhile, Mr Sharp acknowledges the COVID testing rules some Australian states are imposing to enter are causing uncertainty and frustration among travelers. Test results are not coming back within stated timeframes. John Sharp says this is causing problems across the airline industry.
“A lot of passengers have had to cancel their bookings because they are not getting their PCR results back in time to allow them to take their flight. Overloading the testing system has resulted in longer delays getting results.”
Rex’s Deputy Chairman called for states like Queensland to allow travelers to enter using rapid antigen test results rather than PCR results. He says rapid antigen testing is quick, easy, and inexpensive.
“We would suggest that’s a good future way for people who need to travel.”