Airlines slash UK operations amid third lockdown

Jan 6, 2021

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Airlines have begun to cut back on their planned U.K. operations. In light of England’s third national lockdown with non-essential travel off the table, airlines are scaling back their flights to and from the country.

Since Wednesday morning, England has entered its third lockdown in an attempt to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19, including the new mutated strain, which is said to be 70% more infectious. With the new lockdown, all non-essential travel — both domestic and international — is on hold.

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As of Tuesday, holiday provider TUI has suspended all package holiday tours from the U.K. until mid-February, when the lockdown is set to end.

Low-cost carriers EasyJet and Ryanair said that they have already begun scaling back their operations for the coming weeks in order to meet the reduced demand.

EasyJet will continue to operate between some cities in the U.K., as well as “a small number of international routes.” British Airways emphasised that it will keep crucial air links open, according to Bloomberg.

“We understand that new national lockdown restrictions in the U.K. are likely to have caused uncertainty around your travel plans for the coming months,” British Airways said in a statement. “If your flight is cancelled, please be assured that we will get in touch with you.”

British Airways is advising passengers to ensure their information is up to date in the My Booking section of its site. Additionally, it says that you should expect long wait times if you try to call the airline to rebook travel.

Wizz Air, the Hungarian low-cost carrier, said that it will be reviewing its capacity to ensure that it offers flights to meet passenger demand. The carrier, which has expanded rapidly in the U.K., hopes to emerge stronger from the pandemic — including with the launch of its Wizz Air Abu Dhabi airline.

Related: Why one low-cost airline is expanding in the UK despite the pandemic

On Wednesday, Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific announced that its flights from Hong Kong (HKG) to Heathrow will resume from 12 January. However, since the Hong Kong government still bans arriving flights from the U.K., operations from both London and Manchester will remain suspended until at least 25 January.

For the already-struggling aviation industry, the latest lockdown offers a bleak outlook for the long winter season ahead. According to Goodbody analysts, the lockdown will stop the airlines from earning big on February half-term spend, as well as the potential for a decrease in Easter and summer travel.

The anticipated downturn in travel spurred by the latest lockdown will put the airlines in a precarious situation. Already since the start of the pandemic, airlines had been forced to lay off thousands of employees, retire fleets and axe services in order to conserve cash.

Related: What the new national lockdown means for your holiday plans

“Given the ongoing impact of the pandemic on travel, we continue to call for sector-specific support such has been provided to hospitality,” EasyJet said in a statement regarding the latest lockdown.

London’s Heathrow Airport will keep its Terminal 4 closed until at least the end of 2021. While Gatwick Airport will remain open for essential travel only, all operations will take place out of the North Terminal.

It’s not just London airports that are preparing for a reduced operation during the next few weeks. Cornwall’s main airport Newquay (NQY) has closed. According to the airport’s website, the next flight expected to operate from the airport is set to be to Heathrow with British Airways as of 12 February. However, that is subject to change.

Featured photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images.

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