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 have resumed operations — especially domestically — for the most part, the majority of air operations remain grounded. Some airlines have completely suspended operations, while some are still flying on a skeleton operation.
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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. Also keep in mind that flying relies on government restrictions, such as the mandatory 14-day quarantine that went into effect on 8 June for all arriving international passengers to the U.K.
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, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air 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 — including 29 long-haul routes in the month of July. 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. However, it appears as though the carrier is moving forward with a July relaunch, as it’s populated 29 long-haul routes on its July schedule.
In March, EasyJet announced that it was grounding its entire fleet and suspending commercial operations. As of 15 June, however, EasyJet resumed some domestic flights 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 has begin to 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.
The carrier unveiled plans that it hopes to resume 75% of its route network by August.
On 9 June, the low-cost carrier said that it would push back the date it planned to resume flights and package holidays from 1 July to 15 July. And as of the carrier’s 16 June update, it plans to keep its 15 July resumption.
“In view of the ongoing travel restrictions that are in place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have taken the decision to recommence our flights and holidays programme on 15 July”, the company said in a statement.
The airline said that it would be in contact with any passengers who had travel that was supposed to take place before 15 July.
As of 21 June, Ryanair has ditched its limited operating schedule. The carrier announced in May 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 Brits 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.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said that Ryanair would continue flying to and from the U.K. despite the country’s new government-imposed 14-day quarantine on all international arrivals. He said the airline is still seeing Brits book holidays abroad.
“The flights are full outbound of the U.K.”, O’Leary said. “British people are ignoring this quarantine, they know it’s rubbish”.
As of 23 June, the holiday carrier said that it will resume flights as of 11 July. As of that date, TUI will resume flights to eight destinations: Ibiza (IBZ), Palma (PMI), Corfu (CFU), Crete (HER), Kos (KGS), Rhodes (RHO), Lanzarote (ACE) and Tenerife (TFS).
When flights first resume, TUI will operate from three U.K. airports: London Gatwick (LGW), Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX).
In the coming weeks, it expects to announce additional routes, with plans to serve 19 destinations by the end of July. Additionally, the airline said that it plans to resume operations from two additional U.K. airports, though it hasn’t made clear which two they are.
Previously, the carrier said that it was cancelling all flights until 17 June, though it has pushed that date back several times.
Virgin Atlantic announced on 4 June that it plans to resume operations from 20 July and 21 July with service from London Heathrow to five international airports, but it later revised those plans.
As of 20 July, Virgin will begin flying from London Heathrow (LHR) to Hong Kong (HKG), followed by service to New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) as of 21 July. Then, throughout August, it plans to resume service to Barbados (BGI), San Francisco (SFO), Tel Aviv (TLV), Miami (MIA), Lagos (LOS) and Atlanta (ATL).
Throughout September and October, Virgin Atlantic plans to resume flights between LHR and Washington, D.C. (IAD), Seattle (SEA), Las Vegas (LAS), Mumbai (BOM), Delhi (DEL), Johannesburg (JNB) and Boston (BOS). Additionally, it plans to unveil more routes between now and October.
When virgin resumes flights, they’ll operate out of London Heathrow’s Terminal 2, a move from its permanent home in Terminal 3, which remains closed at this time. The airline said that when Heathrow demand returns, Terminal 3 will be able to reopen, however, a timeline for that remains unclear.
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 at this time, not set to resume until July.
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.
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 resumed several routes from the U.K. to popular summer holiday destinations, such as those in Greece and Spain, as well as launching new routes.
Since the coronavirus crisis started spreading at a rapid rate, things have been changing seemingly on a daily basis. At this point, some airlines have started to resume service, while others have revealed their plans to do so. 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.