AUSTRALIA’S two largest airlines were scaling down capacity expectations last month as the Omicron wave ripped through the country and the confidence of Australian travellers along with it.

Qantas and Jetstar reduced their capacity for flights scheduled between January and March this year, with the flying kangaroo forced to concede domestic volumes for the period would be at around 70% of pre-COVID levels, down from the 102% initially forecast.

Virgin Australia made similar moves, slashing flight volumes by a quarter until the end of February, removing 10 services from its schedule in the process including its Sydney to Fiji route.

“Virgin Australia remains focused on growing its network and consumer reach and will resume services as soon as travel demand improves,” the airline’s CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said.

“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.”

Flight capacity expectations have been scaled back by Qantas and Virgin Australia as travel demand continues to be impacted by Omicron.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was quick to place a positive spin on the reduced capacity forecast, stating that despite the cuts this quarter, the pipeline for bookings were looking much healthy for later in the year.

“People are already looking beyond what’s happening now, with early bookings for the Easter holidays in April looking promising for both domestic and international,” Joyce said.

“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 added that while international capacity for the period will fall from 30% to roughly 20% of pre-COVID levels, the focus of the cuts would be on reducing route frequencies and shifting to smaller aircraft rather than suspending services completely where achievable.

However, following its initial announcement, Qantas was forced to make further domestic volume cuts in the wake of a shock decision by the Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan to close the state’s border indefinitely.

The decision will likely see Sydney to London services continue through Darwin instead of Perth for longer, and a planned Perth to Rome service delayed.

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