Qantas Dials Back March Quarter Capacity Plans, Citing Omicron

Credit: Rob Finlayson

Qantas Group’s plan to operate more than 100% of its 2019 domestic capacity in the March quarter has been scrapped in the face of the omicron variant surge, with capacity for the January-March period now expected to be at 70% of pre-pandemic levels.

Qantas mainline was previously expected to reach 100% of 2019 domestic capacity levels this month, rising to 115% of pre-pandemic capacity by April. LCC subsidiary JetStar was expected to reach 120% of pre-pandemic domestic capacity by April. The group was set to operate 102% of 2019 capacity in its fiscal third quarter ending March 31.

But the group is now significantly scaling back capacity plans for the March quarter. In addition to the domestic capacity cut, Qantas Group–which restarted international flights in November–will operate 80% less capacity in the March quarter compared to the same quarter in 2019. The group had planned to be down 70% versus 2019 on international routes.

Qantas did not specify which routes, if any, would be dropped, instead saying the “schedule changes are focused on reducing frequency of services and size of aircraft to minimize inconvenience for passengers as much as possible.”

On the international side, Qantas said the capacity rollback is “driven by increased travel restrictions in countries like Japan, Thailand and Indonesia and is mostly impacting Jetstar’s leisure routes.” Qantas said routes from Australia to Johannesburg (JNB), London Heathrow (LHR), Los Angeles (LAX), Vancouver (YVR) and India are performing well despite the omicron surge.

“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,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said, adding: “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.”

Qantas said its crew is at 100% of 2019 levels and this “crewing level will be maintained despite the capacity reductions announced today, giving both airlines a significant buffer to manage ongoing isolation requirements and resulting in a more reliable schedule for passengers.”

Qantas rival Virgin Australia said earlier this week that it will suspend 10 routes from Jan. 24 through at least the end of February, including international flights to Fiji (NAN) and nine domestic routes, citing high COVID-19 case numbers. Virgin Australia will lower capacity by 25% for the Jan. 24-Feb. 28 period. The capacity cut will be achieved via a combination of reducing frequencies and temporarily dropping the 10 routes.

Aaron Karp

Aaron Karp is a Contributing Editor to the Aviation Week Network.