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Coronavirus panic prompts BA to scrap most profitable routes

Published Mar 3, 2020


London - The travel plans of tens of thousands of holidaymakers have been thrown into doubt after British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair cancelled hundreds of flights due to coronavirus.

In a dramatic development, BA on Monday axed hundreds of short-haul flights to destinations across Europe, including Italy, France, Germany and Ireland, from March 16 to 31.

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The airline also scrapped 12 long-haul flights from Heathrow to New York, its busiest and most profitable route, along with dozens of services to China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul.

In all, the airline has cancelled about three percent of its flights until the end of this month.

Bosses at BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), are in crisis talks over the outbreak, which has led to plummeting demand for international travel as passengers stay at home for fear of contracting the virus, or being stranded abroad and forced into quarantine. Many airlines have recorded pitifully low passenger numbers and delays caused by passenger no-shows.

Among the worst-hit carriers is EasyJet, which has cancelled 500 flights to 13 airports in Italy over the second half of March – affecting one in ten flights to the country.

The airline, whose share price has dropped by a third this week, has rolled out emergency measures to deal with reduced ticket sales, including a staff pay freeze.

On Monday Ryanair also announced it would reduce the number of flight to and from Italy, from airports across Europe, by up to 25 percent from March 17 to April 9.

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A spokesperson wouldn’t confirm which Ryanair routes had been cancelled, but said passengers would be contacted at least 14 days in advance. Until now, the vast majority of cancelled flights across all airlines had been due to depart to the worst-hit countries, such as mainland China and, in recent days, cities in northern Italy.

But the latest announcement of sweeping cancellations to locations across Europe – and even the US – threatens to ruin the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people.

Although most airlines have cancelled flights up until March 31, there is no guarantee that it won’t be extended into April, which could spell chaos for families with planned Easter getaways.

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The sheer number of cancellations has forced BA to waive the fee it usually imposes on customers who wish to change the date of their flight. However, this applies only to new bookings made between March 3 and 16, and if the new flight is more expensive, passengers will have to pay the difference.

BA has also contacted customers on cancelled flights and is offering them the option of rebooking with other airlines, a full refund, or a seat on a BA flight at a later date.

A spokesperson said: "BA and Ryanair must ensure they are keeping passengers informed and quickly rerouting them to their destinations on the next available flight, with other carriers if necessary.

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"Given the circumstances, airlines should also consider offering flexibility to customers who don’t want to travel, such as allowing refunds and waiving flight change fees for both existing and future bookings."

Industry insiders fear a global pandemic will devastate the aviation and travel industries.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said: "Our focus at this time is on minimising any risk to our people and our passengers. While we are heavily booked over the next two weeks, there has been a notable drop in forward bookings towards the end of March, into early April.

"It makes sense to selectively prune our schedule to and from those airports where travel has been most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak."

Daily Mail

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