Airlines have scheduled a dramatic increase in flights in July in anticipation that Governments will lift travel restrictions for holidaymakers and save the industry from potential collapse, according to data seen by The Sunday Telegraph.
The companies which have already laid off tens of thousands of workers are banking on a “V-shaped” recovery by scheduling 161,200 passenger flights and 29.5 million seats for July, just eight per cent down on last year’s July timetables.
The strategy to open up business travel and holiday routes to hotspot favourites like Greece, Italy, France and Spain comes as most European countries are preparing to lift their quarantines or open their borders in mid June or at least by July 1.
It will increase pressure on Boris Johnson to make good his suggestion last week that the UK’s quarantine – to be introduced on June 8 – could be replaced with “air bridges” to low-risk holiday destinations when it is reviewed on June 29.
One senior industry source claimed: “The sense is that they might quietly do a U-turn after the first review period. Grant Shapps [the Transport Secretary] is against quarantine, the Treasury are against it, Beis is against it and DCMS hate it.”
The exclusive data, from Cirium, a travel analytics firm, shows how the coronavirus pandemic devastated the aviation industry as it tore across the world.
Scheduled passengers were 22.5 million in February, 10 per cent up on last year before it slumped by 93 per cent in April and May. It has risen in June to 38.5 per cent down on last year, as the Far East has opened up, and rises to just minus eight per cent in July as airlines anticipate Europe unlocking.
June and July are “scheduled” rather than actual flights, which will depend on quarantines easing in June and July. Germany has lifted restrictions, Italy wants to resume travel on June 15, and Spain and Portugal are aiming for July 1.
France hopes to drop border controls to and from EU countries after June 15 except with countries that impose quarantine on a “reciprocal” basis, namely the UK.
Greece has excluded the UK from a “white list” of 29 countries it judges are low-risk enough from which to accept tourists from June 15 without quarantine although it will open up to more countries after it reviews their infection rates at the end of June.
British Airways says it is aiming for a “meaningful return” to flying in July, RyanAir plans to ramp up flights to at least 40 per cent of its normal July schedule and EasyJet, which has laid off one in three staff, hopes to operate 30 per cent of its pre-crisis timetable from July to September.
Paul Charles, chief executive of PC Consultancy, which advises the tourist industry, said Britain’s quarantine risked “killing” the economy. “Travel companies have not had any bookings for April or May. They are worried that if they don’t get them in June, they will go under,” he said.
The Airport Operators’ Association (AOA) has urged ministers to aim for the first “air bridges” to “low risk” destinations by June 8 so that holidaymakers can sidestep quarantine and the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days on their return to the UK.
The Department for Transport will shortly publish new guidelines for “safe” travel which will include face coverings or masks throughout the journey, temperature checks, social distancing in airports and contactless travel including for check-ins and payments.
An AOA spokesman said: “Once these guidelines are agreed and given that they are based on a common European baseline, this puts in place the right conditions for opening up air bridges to low-risk countries.”
The Home Office which has led the moves to introduce quarantine has, however, warned that it will block attempts to lift the quarantine unless it is safe and there is no risk of it sparking a second wave of coronavirus.
A Department for Transport source said: “There is certainly a willingness in Government to do as much for this Summer as is safe.”
Post-coronavirus air travel:
No travel if you have symptoms
If ill, no cost re-booking or refunds up to six hours before flying
Face masks or coverings from arrival at airport to leaving terminal at destination
Only passengers in the terminal, no tearful goodbyes at departure gates
Contact-less electronic check-in and boarding
Social distancing and one-way systems for waiting and queuing passengers
Airports’ association pressing for temperature checks
Exemption from two-metre rule on plane
No on-board duty free, reduced food and drink service, pre-packaged food and cashless payments