Virgin and Qantas have been forced to cancel flights amid rising Omicron case numbers, as bookings suffer and staff call in sick

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  • Virgin has had to cancel one in four flights as a result of labour shortages and waning demand.
  • Qantas said it hasn’t had to make major cancellations yet, but Jetstar has had to manage disruptions.
  • The aviation industry is set to receive an extension to federal isolation exemptions that were offered to critical and emergency workers earlier this week.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Major airlines have had to cancel flights as COVID-19 case numbers continue to surge around the country, driving booking numbers down and forcing airline staff off the job sick.


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Virgin Australia was hit hardest on Monday, when it announced it had cancelled roughly one in four flights through January and February, reducing capacity by 25% as scores of workers have been forced to isolate themselves with COVID-19. 

Virgin Australia Chief Executive Jayne Hrdlicka said surging case numbers had affected customer confidence across the country. 

“Virgin Australia is dedicated to the communities that we serve and will resume these flights as soon as possible,” Hrdlicka said in a statement.

“Although we don’t know when this wave will pass, we do know that as we make the shift to living with COVID-19 there will continue to be changes in all our lives,” she said.

“We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused to any guest impacted by the changes to our flight schedule during this time.”

The airline said it would have to slash flight frequency across some of its busiest routes, and suspend 10 routes altogether. 

Among the routes affected are flights from Adelaide to Darwin, Cairns, and the Sunshine Coast. 

Flights from Coffs Harbour and Hamilton Island to Melbourne have also been suspended, along with Sydney and Melbourne to Townsville, the Gold Coast to Launceston and Hobart, and Sydney to Fiji. 

Over at Qantas and Jetstar, staff shortages are less severe, and both airlines have yet to make drastic cancellations or changes to major routes. 

A spokesperson for Qantas told Business Insider Australia the national carrier, “like most industries”, has been managing close and casual contacts among workers for some time, but hasn’t had “any major impact” to operations. 

At Jetstar, meanwhile, some flights have been cancelled as a result of the spike in COVID-19 case numbers in early January, with “the vast majority of passengers reaccommodated” within hours of their original departure time. 

“We appreciate the frustration any schedule changes cause and sincerely apologise for the impact to customers’ travel plans,” he said. 

Australia’s regional carrier, Rex Airlines, said it hasn’t yet been forced to cancel flights as a result of staff shortages. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to extend isolation exemptions for asymptomatic close contacts in the aviation industry later on Tuesday, after walking back isolation requirements for workers critical to supply chains and the nation’s emergency workers. 

The changed guidelines come in response to food shortages across the country, with federal health officials indicating isolation rules may soon change nationwide. 

Virgin Airlines said they’d welcome the change, which the Prime Minister suggests could materialise come Thursday, even as unions labelled the move a “reckless” removal of “the last buffer we had left to protect workplaces”. 

“Close contacts are more likely now than ever to have the virus, because of Omicron and [the] definition of close contacts,” said Michael Kaine, national secretary at the Transport Workers Union. 

“The concern is they will be required to work. That means you have people [who are] the most likely to have the virus in workplaces,” he said. 

“There is a real danger here that this might make matters worse.”

The post Virgin and Qantas have been forced to cancel flights amid rising Omicron case numbers, as bookings suffer and staff call in sick appeared first on Business Insider Australia.

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