United Kingdom

Airlines continue to trim schedules as consumer confidence wavers

The way in which people are booking flights has altered massively thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many have seen holiday plans scuppered in recent months and a battle to obtain refunds.

However, appetite for an overseas trip hasn't waned for everyone - and it appears last minute bookings, to see what countries are on the 'safe' to travel list, have grown in popularity. 

Emma Coulthurst, expert at TravelSupermarket, said: 'In the last week or so, we are seeing people looking at coronavirus rates, booking and going within a few days.'

Airlines have dramatically reduced their capacity due consumer confidence during Covid-19

She adds: 'The lead time between looking, booking and going has drastically reduced as a result of Covid.'

'Prices are low to try and stimulate bookings. As airlines need to consolidate due to demand being less than they'd hoped, you may see some flights being cancelled but any cancellation will require a full refund.'

Anyone who is able to quarantine will be more likely to book a holiday, data from the travel comparison website suggests.

Easyjet recently announced that it would be flying less than the 40 per cent of planned capacity it had earlier this year, due to a drop in consumer confidence amid the ongoing pandemic.

It is not the only airline that has had to dramatically reduce the number of flights it was planning. Government travel restrictions have limited the amount of people ready to fly abroad, with the latest rules quarantining those who returned to the UK from several Greek islands. 

Ryanair has chopped its capacity by 20 per cent whilst British Airways is also flying less than 30 per cent of its usual schedule.

However, while prices have soared for those who are having to make a quick return from their holiday when government guidelines change, the cost of some flights have plummeted as carriers battle for business.

It can be difficult to plan schedules at the moment as restrictions are constantly changing

Scheduling headache for airlines 

Many airlines will be unwilling to cancel flights unless strictly necessary to avoid cutting their schedule further and paying out hundreds of pounds to customers in refunds. 

Cancelling flights could also see tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded abroad.

However, flights would not automatically be immediately cancelled due to a change in travel advice. 

There are a number of customers who will still choose to travel, for example, if they are nationals of that country, live in that country or if they are returning home as they will need flights to continue. 

The situation with coronavirus rates for different countries has made it really difficult, if not impossible for airlines to capacity plan.

Emma Coulthurst - Travelsupermarket 

But it can be incredibly difficult for companies to plan their schedule as the advice given to those travelling is changing all the time.

Emma says: 'The situation with coronavirus rates for different countries has made it really difficult, if not impossible for airlines to capacity plan.

It has been suggested that a more rigorous testing system - or introducing one to begin with - should be put in place to ensure all those flying are safe and also to encourage more people to travel, knowing there are systems in place to protect them from the coronavirus. 

Coulthurst added: 'Most people go away for a week so, perhaps a test before you go and then a test on return would work best to ensure those who are positive are found and those who don't have the virus can get back to their daily lives and work.

'Whatever system is deemed best, it is needed as soon as possible. Currently, demand is low as those who can't afford to or are unable to quarantine are not likely to travel.' 

Ryanair is reducing its prices by 50% to try and encourage travellers to book flights abroad

What are airlines offering short-term? 

Ryanair has dramatically reduced some of its prices with the hope of luring customers to book fights.

Last week, the airline launched 50 per cent off over 750,000 seats for travel in September and October to 240 destinations.

It also released a seat sale at the beginning of September with fares as low as €5 across one million seats.

This week, the website is had a 'clearing out sale' on 100,000 seats, starting from under a tenner. These types of deal could continue in the near future. 

Clear out: Ryanair is offering deep discounts on flights for the coming weeks

Despite the tempting offers, it confirmed it has been forced to cut 20 per cent of its capacity for the months of September and October due to a slowdown in demand caused by government travel restrictions. 

Forward bookings with the airline have notably weakened, given continuing uncertainty over recent Covid case rates in some EU countries.

It confirmed that most of these cuts would be frequency reductions rather than route closures and they will be heavily focused on those countries such as Spain, France and Sweden, where rising recent Covid case rates have led to increased travel restrictions.

This includes Ireland which continues to impose a uniquely restrictive Green List, imposing 14 day quarantines on visitors from most other EU countries such as Germany and the UK, which have lower Covid case rates over the last 14 days than Ireland.

It is currently finalising its winter 2020 schedules which run from the end of October to the end of March, deciding how many flights it is likely to go ahead with. 

Ryanair has cut 20% of its capacity for September and October due to a slowdown in demand

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: 'These capacity cuts and frequency reductions for the months of September and October are necessary given the recent weakness in forward bookings due to Covid restrictions in a number of EU countries.

'Over the past two weeks as a number of EU countries have raised travel restrictions, forward bookings especially for business travel into September and October have been negatively affected, and it makes sense to reduce frequencies so that we tailor our capacity to demand over the next two months.

'Proper testing at airports, and effective tracing, as is being conducted in Germany and Italy, is the only realistic and proportionate method of supervising safe intra-EU air travel while effectively limiting the spread of the Covid-19 virus.'

This is Money contacted Jet2 but it said it was unable to comment on seat availability as the information was 'commercially sensitive'.

However, it is also offering cut price tickets to entice customers, giving £100 off per person of all summer holidays booked on the site for 2021.

The offer is available only to the first 50,000 customers whilst it is also offering 10 per cent off all summer holidays for 2021, again to the first 50,000 customers.

Holidaymakers can choose which offer depending on which gives them the biggest discount and what is still available.

Meanwhile, BA has also cut flights due to the ongoing pandemic with a spokesperson saying: 'We are now in the sixth month of flying less than 30 per cent of our schedule. This is a fast-changing situation, and we keep our schedule under constant review so we can respond to customer demand as necessary.'

However, if a customer's flight is cancelled they are entitled to a voucher or a full refund with its Booking with Confidence policy covering customers due to travel up to the end of September 2020.

This means that if a customer wants to change their booking they can – re-booking or taking a voucher for future travel which is likely to encourage more people to book with BA. 

Deep travel discounts in 2021? 

With some flight schedules still being worked out and the likeihood of reduced flight capacity, it is currently hard to establish whether prices will rise thanks to shrunken space, or fall because of lack of demand. 

Currently, it appears the latter is happening - with Jet2 for example, as mentioned above, offering discounts for summer 2021 bookings now.  

Gavin Harris, commercial director at Skyscanner, said: 'Travel providers continue to offer extremely attractive pricing for travel into 2021 and are doing everything they can to ensure flight schedules, keen to instill consumer confidence during this time of uncertainty.

'Although travel has looked different in 2020, we have seen that UK travellers are still eager to get away and are finding ways to do so within the rules. 

'Unfortunately, schedule changes are sometimes required to comply with regulations and fluctuating passenger volumes.

'To mitigate this, many airlines are offering new flexible booking policies, so you won't lose out if your flights need to be changed or cancelled. You can also book hotels with free cancellation. That way, it is easy to stay flexible. You can book now, then decide if it's right to go later.'

Those looking to travel abroad are urged to take caution before booking as travel restrictions change from day to day. 

If possible, they should try and get travel insurance, which may not cover them for catching coronavirus, although some do, but should still cover them for loss of belongings.  

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