Qantas, Virgin cut capacity in the wake of new government restrictions

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

Australia’s largest carriers have announced sweeping changes to their operations as a result of the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19).

In its biggest round of cuts to flights since the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak began to impact operations, the Qantas Group will decrease international capacity by around 90 per cent from the end of March to “at least” the end of May.

“As a result of significant falls in travel demand due to coronavirus, and new government restrictions across multiple jurisdictions in recent days, Qantas and Jetstar will make further and much larger cuts to domestic and international flying schedules,” the group said.

Representing an increase of nearly 67 per cent from its last announcement of flight cuts group-wide, Qantas said the decision to increase international capacity reductions stemmed largely from the impacts of “severe quarantine requirements on people’s ability to travel overseas”.

A growing number of countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas have enacted travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 internationally, while Europe may not be far behind in implementing a continent-wide restriction on travel.

On Monday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she would propose a 30-day ban on non-essential travel to the continent, according to multiple reports.

This comes as, closer to home, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced international visitors to Australia would be required to self-isolate for fourteen days, in a bid to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

Qantas also advised it would decrease domestic capacity by around 60 per cent, representing a major increase from the previous five per cent reduction advised for the fourth quarter of 2020 fiscal year.

According to Qantas, the overall decrease to cuts both at home and abroad represents the equivalent grounding of around 150 aircraft, including almost all the group’s wide-body fleet.

Both cuts represent considerable increases to Qantas’ previously advised changes to capacity, which are still set to remain in place and are “likely to be increased, depending on demand”.

In terms of the impact of these changes to travellers, Qantas previously advised that existing customers now have the option to cancel flights and receive travel credit until 31 March for travel booked up to 31 May 2020.

Virgin Australia to suspend all international flying

Australia’s second-largest carrier, Virgin Australia, will temporarily ground its entire international fleet and cut domestic capacity in half.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, the airline said it had made the decision due to increased government travel restrictions and impacts on travel demand due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We have entered an unprecedented time in the global aviation industry,” Virgin Australia CEO and managing director Paul Scurrah said.

“[That] has required us to take significant action to responsibly manage our business while balancing traveller demands and supporting the wellbeing of Australians.”

As a result, Virgin Australia has made the decision to temporarily suspend all international services from 30 March to 14 June – including its inaugural Brisbane to Haneda service – grounding the equivalent of 53 aircraft, the airline said.

Domestic operations, which account for 88 per cent of passengers and 78 per cent of Virgin Australia’s revenue, have also been cut by 50 per cent. Scurrah advised the airline would maintain most domestic routes and instead focus on reducing frequencies in its flying schedule.

Between now and 29 March, Virgin Australia said it would operate a reduced international schedule to allow Australians and visitors to return home, with the group to work closely with the federal government to prioritise these journeys.

Virgin Australia said it would also aim to avoid redundancies by fast-tracking accrued leave, leave without pay and redeployment, but said in some cases job losses would be the outcome.

“The changes announced today will affect our people and we are having constructive discussions with team members and relevant unions,” Scurrah said.

“The Virgin Australia Group is focused on ensuring we manage the business through this difficult period and maintain a strong and competitive aviation in Australia for the years to come.”

The announcement comes as the federal government prepares to sign-off on a $715 million relief package for Australian airlines, which involves the refunding and ongoing waiving of a range of government charges on the industry.

Virgin said the route and schedule detail of changes across Virgin Australia and Tigerair Australia is currently being worked through and will be published over the next week.

In addition, the grounding will see the postponement of Virgin’s inaugural Brisbane to Haneda flight from 29 March, and the airline’s Melbourne to Denpasar service.

Virgin has set up a “dedicated customer care hub” on its virginaustralia.com website to deal with specific customer queries and travel changes.

Furthermore, guests with new or existing domestic and international bookings through to 30 June 2020 are entitled to change their flight to a later date or a different destination, or both, without incurring a fee.

Guests who no longer wish to travel can also cancel their flight and receive a travel credit.

Featured image: iStock.com/ai_yoshi