Virgin Australia is refusing to release information on a staff member who has tested positive for coronavirus. Other than saying the female staff member had contact with the public, the airline is not disclosing information about the staff member’s job or location.
It’s all in the name of privacy, says Virgin Australia.
The airline has said it was tracking down people the staff member may have had contact with. The staff member was in self-isolation and receiving treatment. A spokesperson for the airline said;
“We have begun the process of determining the contacts of the team member during the time they would likely have been infectious and will be checking in on them regularly to check on their health.”
While Virgin Australia is based in Brisbane, it has over 10,000 employees scattered around Australia.
Strategic weakness a saving grace right now
The news comes as Virgin Australia hunkers down to ride out the coronavirus crisis.
The airline has often been criticized and the butt of jokes for its inability to establish a successful international network. But it is this very weakness that may help save it now. Virgin Australia was able to shrug off yesterday’s Schengen zone travel ban because it doesn’t fly between the USA and Europe.
In addition to confirming that he had spoken with the staff member, Virgin Australia CEO, Paul Scurrah said today;
“We are very well positioned to weather the coronavirus (pandemic)”
But Virgin Australia does fly to the USA from Australia. Its three routes to Los Angeles, from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne respectively, are the shining jewels in Virgin Australia’s international network and usually make money.
If the White House turned its focus westwards, or if the Australian government pulled the trigger and closed its border to US citizens, the consequences for Virgin Australia could be dramatic.
The airline is also due to start flying between Brisbane and Tokyo Haneda at the end of this month. There is a lot invested in these new flights. Virgin Australia insists the flights will not be postponed. However, the carrier has today announced the daily flights will now only run thrice weekly. They are also dropping back frequencies on the LA route.
The threat is if domestic demand dramatically drops
And while the staff member contracting coronavirus may be attracting the headlines, it is the longer-term impact of coronavirus at the airline that has many people concerned.
In comparison to larger airlines, Virgin Australia’s exposure to regions most impacted by coronavirus is limited. Unlike its local competitor, Qantas, Virgin Australia has not had to go into damage control. But Qantas is strong and financially robust. It is getting praised for making the right strategic decisions at the moment.
Virgin Australia, on the other hand, has to wait and see whether the impact trickles down into the airline’s core domestic business. 88% of Virgin Australia’s business is in the domestic market.
The Australian domestic aviation market is in decline, but it is not an acute decline.
Virgin Australia has a decent cash reserve but many analysts wonder how long the airline can handle a sustained downturn in business. Its key stockholders Etihad, Singapore Airlines, HNA Group and Nashan all have their own problems to deal with.
It presents a bit of a conundrum for Virgin Australia. Coronavirus is like a stalking horse. It hasn’t yet lashed out at the airline, but it could. In the meantime, the airline will spend today explaining why it chooses to be less than transparent about its sick staff member.