Magnitude of aviation collapse revealed at start of breakout weekend
The extent of Britain’s travel industry crisis has been exposed by figures showing that the country’s major airports will only have a fraction of their normal number of passengers during what is expected to be l one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Manchester Airport will handle less than 40% of flights from two years ago, while Gatwick – once the busiest airport in the world – will handle a fifth of its usual number of travelers in August.
Industry bosses blame uncertainty over government’s botched “traffic light” plan, as exclusive poll for The independent shows that only 12% of Britons still intend to go abroad this summer.
Search by The independent reveals that while vaccinated passengers may bypass quarantine when returning from Amber List countries, a significant resurgence in demand for international travel has not materialized – leaving Gatwick and other UK airports to handle a small fraction of previous levels of passengers.
Paul Charles, Managing Director of the PC agency, said: “The majority of the travel industry remains deeply unoccupied. Consumers are worried about the poor quality government traffic light system and fear getting caught abroad at great expense.
“We need to see governments working together more to open up travel and allow fully inundated people to access areas without fear of quarantine. “
Portugal’s abrupt move from the non-quarantine green list to the orange list – requiring self-isolation – has been one of many shocks that have undermined travelers’ confidence. Another was the surprise creation last week of an amber plus category.
On July 8, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that people who had received two NHS vaccines would not need to self-isolate upon return from medium-risk countries like France and Spain – both nations most popular for UK holidaymakers.
But eight days later, ministers brutally reversed the decision for France, wiping out the plans of hundreds of thousands of travelers.
No foreign visitor to the UK will be helped by the vaccine exemption, as only vaccines administered by the NHS are acceptable. Those who hope to visit as tourists or business travelers, or see family and friends, are excluded from the arrangement and are likely to stay away rather than isolate themselves upon arrival.
Due to the near total lack of inbound demand and the crisis in consumer confidence, airlines have canceled thousands of flights during the summer season.
Meanwhile, the Savanta ComRes poll for The independent found that most Britons believe the restrictions have failed to protect the UK from the spread of Covid. Some 57% said they were not confident booking a vacation because of the government’s traffic light system.
Two years ago, London Gatwick was the busiest single-runway airport in the world. The Sussex hub, which is also easyJet’s main base, peaked at 168,000 passengers in one day in August 2019.
But the tangle of international travel restrictions and frequent abrupt changes in quarantine rules mean Gatwick will only process a fifth of its regular passengers next month.
The airport and the airlines that use it depend on the peak summer season – mainly in August – to generate high revenues to support them during the winter.
Manchester, which in 2019 was among Europe’s top 20 airports, will handle less than 40% of flights during the “getaway weekend” compared to two summers ago.
Passenger loads in 2019 were typically over 90%, but in 2021 they struggled to reach well over 60%.
In addition, Manchester’s second busiest route (after Palma) was with Emirates to and from Dubai, currently on the government’s red list requiring hotel quarantine for arrivals. As a result, the number of travelers may be only a third of 2021 levels.
London Stansted, part of the Manchester Airports Group, expects a lot more movement this weekend: 62% of 2019 levels. It is the main hub for Europe’s largest low-cost airline , Ryanair, which operates flights despite low passenger numbers and low fares.
Seats on Saturday’s Stansted-Bordeaux flight were available Friday night for £ 27 one way, about a fifth of the expected fare for one of the busiest summer weekends of the year. The same price applies to Pisa in Italy.
East Midlands, the third member of the Manchester Airports Group, will see 45% of aircraft movements this weekend compared to 2019. The top five destinations are Palma, Faro, Tenerife, Malta and Alicante.
While Luton Airport in Bedfordshire expects Sunday July 25 to be the busiest day of the year so far, with around 20,000 passengers, the figures are not expected to exceed 30% of pre-pandemic levels through August.
Heathrow Airport, which lost its title as the busiest in Europe 16 months ago, will unveil its half-year results on Monday morning. For most of the first half of 2021, international pleasure travel from the UK was illegal, with passenger numbers often falling by around 90%.
Previously, Heathrow was a crucial hub for North America, but a ban on non-U.S. Passengers from the UK has been in place for 16 months. This week, the UK was placed at the highest risk level by the US Centers for Disease Control, with Americans urged to stay away.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, Managing Director of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “This is yet another blow to an already fragile industry and creates even more uncertainty for travelers. Vaccination is either a free pass to unlock or it is not. As the rest of the world unlocks, the British are stuck in Groundhog Day again and again. Travelers and industry no longer need certainty, no more confusion.
“The long road to recovery in the travel industry stretches far beyond the horizon and in particular the delays in reopening the United States are a major setback for BA and Virgin Atlantic,” said a senior aviation official.
Yet even attempts to capitalize on UK domestic demand appear futile.
Wizz Air has scrapped its domestic services scheduled for the summer, while easyJet’s new route between Inverness and Newquay – the UK’s longest domestic route – apparently sells poorly, with fares below £ 25 one-way available for August.
A flexible train ticket for the same route costs £ 264.