When will we start flying again? UK airlines share when flights will resume
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The coronavirus crisis has meant that we’ve been stuck at home. The U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) still has an order in place to avoid all non-essential travel. And as such, we remain grounded.
While some airlines are still operating emergency flights in order to repatriate citizens stuck abroad, and some are still operating cargo flights, for the most part, air operations remains grounded. Some airlines have completely suspended operations, while some are still flying on a skeleton operation. Some airports around the world have even turned into plane parks to store those grounded aircraft.
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But the question on most everyone’s mind is: “When will we be able to fly again?”
As a disclaimer, there is no way for us to tell you the answer to that. In reality, the likelihood is that an answer today will be different given the situation in two week’s time, and airlines continue to push back the dates they see fit to resume.
However, some of the largest airlines in the U.K. are painting a picture as to when they plan on resuming flights. Here’s what we know from the likes of British Airways, Jet2, EasyJet, Ryanair, TUI and Virgin Atlantic thus far.
In the first-quarter earnings call of International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, the group’s CEO Willie Walsh said that it expects airlines to take a “meaningful return to service” in July at the earliest. Overall, by the third quarter, IAG expects to be operating at about 45% of capacity compared to the year prior. In the fourth quarter, it expects operations to ramp up to 70%.
However, after releasing the group’s outlook for the rest of the year, Walsh was forced to backtrack just a few days later as the U.K. government announced harsh restrictions on travellers entering the country. As of 8 June, all international passengers arriving in the U.K. will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
As a result, Walsh said that IAG may be forced to rethink its July restart date because of the travel restrictions. Walsh — and other U.K. carriers and travel entities — have said that a mandatory 14-day self-isolation would be detrimental to the already-crippled travel industry.
While July is the target for BA, there may be a holdup by way of governmental restrictions before the carrier can make its planned “meaningful return” to service.
At this point, no specifics have been announced as to what routes will be relaunched.
In March, EasyJet announced that it was grounding its entire fleet and suspending commercial operations. To date, the carrier has operated just rescue flights to repatriate citizens. However, as of 21 May, the carrier has revealed its plans for a return to service.
Beginning 15 June, EasyJet will resume flights domestically from 10 U.K. airports: Belfast (BFS), Birmingham (BHX), Bristol (BRS), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Inverness (INV), Isle of Man (IOM), Liverpool (LPL) London Gatwick (LGW) and Newcastle (NCL).
Initially, the airline will fly the following domestic and one international route:
- Belfast (BFS): From Northern Ireland’s main airport, there will be flights to Birmingham (BHX), Bristol (BRS), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Gatwick (LGW), Liverpool (LPL) and Newcastle (NCL).
- Liverpool (LPL): From Merseyside, there will be flights to the Isle of Man (IOM).
- London Gatwick (LGW): And from the airline’s largest London hub, flights will be operating to Belfast (BFS), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Inverness (INV), Isle of Man (IOM) and Nice (NCE).
By resuming mostly domestic flights, the airline is planning to avoid any government-imposed travel restrictions for arriving passengers. For example, its passengers flying within the U.K. wouldn’t have to self-isolate for 14 days, a move that is thought to put off international travellers.
In addition to the domestic U.K. routes EasyJet will resume as of 15 June, it plans to also resume mostly domestic operations at the following European airports: Bordeaux (BOD), Lille (LIL), Lyon (LYS), Nantes (NTE), Nice (NCE) Paris (CDG) and Toulouse (TLS) in France; Geneva (GVA) in Switzerland; Lisbon (LIS) and Porto (OPO) in Portugal; and Barcelona (BCN) in Spain.
“We will continue to closely monitor the situation across Europe so that when more restrictions are lifted the schedule will continue to build over time to match demand while also ensuring we are operating efficiently and on routes that our customers want to fly”, EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said.
On 25 May, the low-cost carrier said that it would restart holidays and flights as of 1 July.
“In view of the ongoing travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken the decision to recommence our flights and holidays programme on July 1st”, the airline said in a statement on its website.
The airline said that it would be in contact with any passengers who had travel that was supposed to take place before 1 July.
The ultra-low-cost carrier will continue operating its limited flight schedule through at least 20 June. Ryanair said that it’s working with EU governments to still keep a minimum number of flights in operation for emergency reasons, but 99% of its operations still remain grounded. And those emergency flights that are operating are doing so with very low flight loads.
The below routes will be operating on an emergency basis through 20 June.
However, as of 12 May, the carrier announced that it plans to resume about 40% of its operations as of 1 July 2020. More specifically, the airline plans to take advantage of flying to destinations where government-imposed restrictions have been lifted. For example, the low-cost carrier plans to double-down on flights to the popular holiday destinations in Spain, as the Spanish government will not require visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days after 1 July. In addition to Spain, Ryanair plans to operate to “key holiday airports” in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Cyprus.
When it does resume flights as of that date, it will implement physical distancing measures and require passengers and crew to wear face masks, as well as mandating that passengers request permission to use the lavatory on board in order to prevent queues.
As expected, the airline will not implement an empty middle seat policy when it resumes flights.
As of 29 May, the holiday carrier has cancelled all foreign holidays for British tourists until 1 July. All operations to Spain and Greece before 30 June have been cancelled, and all lakes and mountains holidays have been cancelled until at least 1 October.
Additionally, all Marella Cruises have been stopped until 31 July, with some specific itineraries cancelled into 2021.
Previously, the carrier said that it was cancelling all flights until 17 June.
Virgin Atlantic is keeping a tight lip as to when it’s thinking about resuming operations — though operations won’t resume until at least August. Virgin has faced a number of hardships in light of the coronavirus crisis. In cost-cutting efforts, the airline’s CEO Shai Weiss announced in March that large portions of the fleet would be grounded and employees would be asked to take pay cuts.
Perhaps what we didn’t expect, however, was that the airline would completely suspend passenger options for a period of time. While the airline has kept some operations — mostly to transport medical supplies and personal protective equipment to the U.K. for the NHS — most passenger operations remain suspended.
“The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has provided Virgin Atlantic with special dispensation to carry cargo in the cabin as well as the cargo hold, so that we can carry even more essential goods, to ensure global supply chains keep running and transporting essential medical supplies into the U.K. at this time of crisis”, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said.
Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson said the airline would collapse without any help from the government. In the beginning of May, Virgin announced that it was retiring its 747 fleet effective immediately, as well as closing its Gatwick base and losing more than 3,000 jobs.
However, even though the airline isn’t saying when flights will resume in the near-term, the carrier unveiled its optimistic summer 2021 schedule, despite its financial uncertainties.
Low-cost carrier Wizz Air has been bullish as far as its return to service. As of 1 May, the carrier resumed some passenger flights between London Luton and several Europe destinations — mainly to transport workers to the U.K. However, the carrier also announced its plans to offer a large summer route network, with flights set to resume on 16 June to Portgual and in July to Greece.
However, whether or not the carrier can actually resume these flights will depend on respective governments and whether or not they lift travel restrictions. If that happens, Wizz plans to operate.
Since the coronavirus crisis started spreading at a rapid rate, things have been changing seemingly on a daily basis. While most travel remains at a halt at this time, airlines are looking to resume operations. How they go about convincing passengers that air travel is safe has yet to be determined, however, flights will resume at some point. But, just like with all things, it’s likely that what we know now may change in the coming days and weeks.
Featured photo by Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images.