International travel is finally back and as brave Aussies tentatively head overseas, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka sees nothing but optimism in the air.
Despite the potential threat of Omicron, and the sharp rise in case numbers not only in Australia but around the world, Ms Hrdlicka told news.com.au the airline had high hopes for 2022.
Speaking from Gate 51 at Sydney International Airport, where Virgin Australia relaunched its international travel schedule with a 10.30am flight to Nadi, Fiji, Ms Hrdlicka said it was nice to see travel back again.
“It’s been a tough couple of years. There are lots of things that we just did in our lives that we didn’t stop to think about, and we’ve had to stop and think about them and we do things a bit differently now,” she said.
“I just think it’s a time for great optimism. Borders are opening. We’re all well vaccinated. And we just need to stay focused on the things that matter in our lives and not get distracted by the latest new variants or whatever might be.”
It was a big day for Virgin, but also the passengers that chose to jump on the airline’s first international flight, with the CEO announcing everyone on-board would receive a free return domestic flight to anywhere in Australia.
And while travelling overseas is different to what it was pre-pandemic, with testing requirements and vaccination certificates making the check-in process longer, Ms Hrdlicka said it was “no biggie”.
“Check-in today was a little bit different than it normally would be because you needed to show vaccination and you needed to show that you had a negative PCR test,” she said.
“That’s probably the way of the future and it’s just like increased security. It takes a little bit more time, but not much.
“And it just means we’ve got to get into new routines when we travel internationally. So it’s no biggie. It’s just a part of the journey and getting back to a new normal.”
Virgin Australia found itself in the headlines this week when a positive Covid case travelled on two of its flights on Monday, with Queensland Health ordering everyone on both flights into isolation for two weeks.
This decision was reversed by health authorities yesterday morning, with the only people deemed close contacts those who were sitting two rows in front, two rows behind and on the same row as the case.
Despite the chaos, Ms Hrdlicka told news.com.au everything was worked out quickly.
“We just work closely with the health teams in all the states and with all the state governments and we just worked through things step by step to try to get the best outcomes for everyone,” she said.
“It worked out just the way it should have and we’re really pleased with how everybody works together.
“We’re on a transformation journey. We’re transitioning from hiding from Covid to living with Covid and we’re just gonna have a few little challenges along the way as we all kind of course correct and get the settings right.”
Ms Hrdlicka said the airline would keep doing its job by making sure “that we compete fiercely for every one of our guests to bring them back”.
“I think the market is going to be super competitive for a while,” she said.
“And the prices in the market are pretty sharp. So it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds.”
For 2022, Ms Hrdlicka said their focus was on expanding the airline, having already announced 15 new routes in the past six months.
All Virgin staff are also back at work and the airline is hiring a further 600 for its expansion, with flights to New Zealand and Bali not far off.
“We’ve got new things on the drawing board, but nothing that we’re announcing today,” she said.
“But we’ll continue to look at what’s interesting and important for our guests and where there are unserved markets we will step in and serve and it’ll come down to where guests want to go.”
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