Airlines Cull U.K. Flights, While Last-Minute Private Jet Bookings Spike
(Bloomberg) -- Airlines have begun slashing capacity on U.K. routes as the country prepares to enter a second coronavirus lockdown that will outlaw all non-business trips.
Though it’s still unclear how the English ban will be enforced, carriers will cut seating by 70% in coming days, based on scheduling estimates from travel-data provider OAG. EasyJet Plc, the U.K.’s biggest discount airline, is scrapping all but a handful of trips to locations including the Spanish island of Tenerife, Portugal’s Algarve, and cities such as Amsterdam, according to its website.
Private-jet operators, by contrast, are seeing a jump in last-minute bookings from wealthy families desperate to beat the lockdown, with charter specialist Air Partner Plc reporting a “sharp surge” in interest from people based in the U.K. but with second homes in the Canary Islands. The region’s air-traffic manager Eurocontrol meanwhile warned that passenger numbers won’t fully recover for many years without an effective Covid-19 vaccine.
“The impact of this sudden lockdown will ripple through consumer confidence for the rest of the winter season,” John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG, said Wednesday. “Unless there is finally some intervention from the U.K. government then the future will remain bleak for probably most of 2021, based on the damage that will be done in the next four weeks.”
Britain will impose the travel ban from midnight tonight until Dec. 2 as part of a wider lockdown aimed at stemming a resurgence of Covid-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced over the weekend. Carriers are already reeling from the pandemic, having cut thousands of jobs, retired hundreds of planes and turned to capital markets and asset sales to survive the slump.
Some airlines will cease all flights as a result of the new U.K. stance, while others, like Dubai-based Emirates and American Airlines Group Inc., will likely continue flying less frequently to their hub airports, Grant said.
The industry had already begun to significantly cut back on winter schedules even before the latest lockdowns, with 145 million seats removed from schedules between Sept. 30 and Nov. 2, according to OAG.
The International Air Transport Association said in a webinar Wednesday that the U.K. restrictions will be “extremely damaging” for the country’s travel industry. Bookings shot up 112% when quarantine requirements for people returning from the Canary Islands were lifted, but the lockdown will slam the brakes on any recovery, according to the trade group.
IATA: Airline Passenger Traffic Fell 72.8% in Sept vs Yr Ago
“Health is a priority but we need to be looking at ways of preserving jobs,” IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce said in the briefing. “A by-product of these measures is going to be that jobs will be lost in the travel and tourism sector.”
The Airlines UK lobby group separately wrote to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak seeking targeted support to ensure companies survive, including a continuation of furlough funding through the winter, together with grants or loans. It said carriers are now effectively “closed businesses.”
Read More: U.K. Airline Lobby Calls For Support During Travel Ban
The British Airline Pilots Association said in a statement that the restrictions will deliver “another body blow.” It called for a government commitment to lift the ban on leisure travel by Dec. 2, when the lockdown is slated to end, and to roll out at-airport testing procedures to replace quarantines.
Luton, England-based EasyJet will operate just three flights for the rest of November from Faro, Portugal to London Gatwick airport, according to its online timetable, yet plans daily flights in subsequent months.
Tenerife, the most popular of the Canary Islands and exempted from U.K. quarantine shortly before the new lockdown was announced, will see flights slashed to just a dozen, while the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt will have just one service to Gatwick in the month.
Domestic flights will be less impacted, though travel curbs will also apply within the U.K., with EasyJet reduced Gatwick-Edinburgh trips reduced to 16 for the rest of November before going almost daily again in December.
Air Partner, which is based at Gatwick, said Johnson’s announcement prompted an immediate jump in interest in private flights out of the U.K. before Thursday.
“We have also started to receive early inquiries for private jet bookings in December, as flyers want to know they have these secured so that they can travel during the Christmas period when it is hoped some restrictions will be lifted,” it said in an email.
Britain isn’t alone in calling a halt to most travel for citizens, with Germany and France also imposing restrictions.
France went into a lockdown last week that includes a closing of all non-essential shops and a travel ban other than for extenuating circumstances. Fraport AG, which operates Frankfurt airport, expects to have about 25,000 passengers a day flying through, versus the usual 200,000, after Germany restricted most travel.
The company cut its full-year passenger target to as low as 18 million on the basis of a German lockdown that began Monday, having said only last week that it anticipated a total approaching 20 million.
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